Bartholomew County receives nearly $500,000 for new drug court

BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY, Ind - Bartholomew County officials hope a federal grant will provide the boost needed to start the county’s first adult drug court in the early part of next year.

The county recently received $499,423 from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance to fund the court from January, 2019 through the end of 2022.

Bartholomew County Circuit Court Judge Kelly Benjamin, who would oversee the new drug court, hopes the new funding stream will help make the court reality.

“Number one, to reduce crimes,” Benjamin said.  “Number two, to reduce the substance abuse by people.  And three, as a cost saver to taxpayers within the criminal justice system.”

Nearly half of Indiana’s 92 counties either have adult drug courts, or are in the planning stages for one.  The special courts aim to put drug offenders into treatment and recovery programs rather than a jail cell.

Benjamin says national research over the last 20 years shows the courts have a 75-percent success rate of keeping drug offenders out of the criminal justice system for at least two years.

“When they have to come in every week and address the court and they’re treatment providers and there’s constant supervision over them, it’s different,” Benjamin said.  “It’s more intense.”

Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers says drug-related arrests account for the majority of jail bookings he sees each day.

“I would say over half the people we have in our jail have been here before,” Myers said.  “And, just an estimate, I would say 80-percent or more are here because of drugs.”

Benjamin hopes the new court will help break the cycle of repeat drug arrests that has been driving crime statistics and destroying families for years.

“The whole purpose is they don’t use again, they’re not committing crimes, our community is safer and we have productive people within our community while saving lives,” she said.

“They’re more likely to be successful and get back out and be productive citizens,” Myers said.

Although the federal grant is a major boost, the county still needs to get approval and certification through the state for the new court.  The county also needs to get funding for a new prosecutor, public defender and magistrate for the court.  Benjamin hopes to secure that funding through the community’s new city-county partnership geared toward substance abuse issues.  That partnership, called ASAP, stands for Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress.  It’s possible the needed funding could come from a combination of ASAP and county dollars.

If the funding and organizational issues are all solved, Benjamin hopes to have the court up and running by late Spring of next year.  She believes the court will be able to handle up to 25 cases at a time.

“To make sure that we’re addressing their substance abuse as well as mental health,” Benjamin said.  “What you’ll find is over 60 percent of people who have substance abuse issues also have mental health issues.”