INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Statehouse is exploring ways to reduce recidivism through mental health and addiction recovery services.

Officials say mental health issues and substance abuse are closely connected to crime.

“Diagnosed but untreated mental health conditions are, when you control for race, age, severity of offense, is the main driver for arrests and rearrests,” said Bernice Corley, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council.

Community leaders met with some Indiana lawmakers Tuesday to discuss the issue. They’re searching for ways to ensure Hoosiers entering and exiting the criminal justice system have access to treatment.

“My concern is we don’t have the bodies as far as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers,” said State Rep. Wendy McNamara (R-Evansville), chair of the interim study committee on corrections and criminal code.

“We’re somewhere around 5,000 to 7,000 therapists short in this state,” said George Hurd, vice president of behavioral health for Community Health Network.

Delaware County Sheriff Tony Skinner said he believes funding is the biggest barrier right now.

“If they’re lucky, they may have been able to participate in Narcotics Anonymous or an Alcoholics Anonymous program,” Skinner said. “But quite frankly, since COVID started, I don’t know that any jails continued with those programs.”

That’s why Skinner and Delaware County officials agreed to be part of a new state-funded pilot program that has launched in five county jails. It pairs incarcerated Hoosiers with peer recovery coaches who can help them access treatment and other needs, according to Douglas Huntsinger, Indiana’s executive director for drug prevention, treatment and enforcement.

“80% of individuals in the justice system have a diagnosable substance use disorder,” Huntsinger said. “So it makes it ground zero for helping individuals restart.”

The pilot program will run for one year, and then the state will decide whether it should expand, Huntsinger said. Each participating county will receive up to $500,000 in state funding, he added.