MARION COUNTY — Local agencies in Marion County are teaming up to launch a new program to help incarcerated Hoosiers who cannot afford an attorney get the services they need.

“This is a reinvention of how public defense would happen in Marion County,” said Lena Hackett with Community Solutions, Inc.

The Marion County Reentry Coalition, and other local agencies, have launched a 5-year pilot program is called the “Interdisciplinary Defense System.” It’s a new, holistic program targeted at helping incarcerated Hoosiers get back on their feet and avoid returning to the criminal justice system.

“This project redesigns the system so all these partners are working as a team from the moment we know that person is going to go to the department of corrections,” Hackett said. “They then can expand how long they have a public defender. The core of it is the social worker who does an assessment with the individual and figures out what do they need.”

The program is only for adults who have been assigned a public defender, convicted of a crime and sentenced to the Indiana Department of Correction for no more than 3 years. 

Hackett says this will help individuals who cannot afford a lawyer. If you are assigned a public defender, when you go to the Department of Correction, you no longer have that defender unless you can pay for it.

“It’s like the little snowball down a hill,” Hackett said. “What could have been easily resolved or easier, by the time someone gets released it’s an enormous barrier. So this project redesigns the system so all these partners are working as a team. That starts from the moment we know that person is going to go to the department of corrections.”

The program will assist inmates with their criminal case, provide mental health services and help with job placement and housing.

“On a criminal justice side, this is huge,” Hackett said. “In terms of reform it’s focused on, there’s much more that needs to happen. We’re not an understanding community right now. People screw up, they face consequences for that and they should be able to go on.”

It’s funded by $2 million in state funding from Indiana Family and Social Services and a $4 million grant from the Lilly Endowment.

The program is expected to begin taking on clients in February. To join the program, the public defender’s agency will identify eligible candidates and then a social worker with the project will reach out to see if inmates are interested.