A new statewide program aimed at helping people who are going through the criminal justice system to receive mental health and substance abuse treatment was announced earlier this month.

But health providers in Clark County have been offering something similar since July.

"We're basically treating people referred from the court system and right now we are still treating people who don't have the ability to pay," said Denise Poukish of LifeSpring Health Systems in Jeffersonville."We're trying to eliminate barriers."

Poukish said LifeSpring's Project 180, which helps people coming out of the jail system to receive treatment, has so far exceeded expectations. Most of the more than 200 referrals for that program over the past four months have come from Clark and Floyd county community corrections.

Community corrections programs offer alternative sentencing options that include programs such as work release and day reporting.

The state program that began Nov. 4, called Recovery Works, is another resource for people in community corrections or on supervised probation who don't have health insurance to get treatment. The program operates under the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, or FSSA, and aims to reduce the jail recidivism rate by 20 percent.

Recovery Works is funded through Indiana House Enrolled Act 1006 that allots $10 million in state funding for criminal justice programs for the first year and another $20 million in the second year. In order to receive funding, health care providers must be a Division of Mental Health and Addiction, or DMHA, certified agency, such as LifeSpring.

"It does make things different in the respect of certain populations will now have financial assistance in accessing behavioral health care, which hasn't occurred before," Poukish said.

In addition to serving community corrections clients, LifeSpring provides mental health and substance abuse services to inmates in jails in Scott, Jefferson and Harrison County. Beginning Jan. 1, LifeSpring will also serve the Clark County jail.

As part of the contract with Clark County, Poukish said LifeSpring has agreed to provide transition-planning services for inmates preparing for release. Those clients are potentially who Recovery Works hopes to help.

According to a news release from FSSA, 16 percent of the U.S. prison population has been diagnosed with serious mental illness. Over half of incarcerated people in state prison have been diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder.

In comparison, the general public has a prevalence rate of 5.4 percent of people with mental illness and 8.8 percent with a substance abuse disorder, according to the release.

"Considering there's a high percentage of offender population that suffer from mental health issues and substance issues, I think that [the Recovery Works program] is much needed," Poukish said. "I think that it will address multiple issues and hopefully reduce recidivism ..."

Danielle Grissett, Clark County Community Corrections Executive Director, said the funding for Recovery Works also could be a funding source for a forensic diversion program community corrections is hoping to launch.

"We're looking at — it's not set in stone but — basically for two or three months clients would be incarcerated in our facility and then we would have a DHMA-certified facility come in and work with them throughout the week and ideally have someone come on weekends," Grissett.

Unlike in other community corrections programs, Grissett said clients in the forensic diversion program wouldn't need to worry about working and paying for treatment. After completing the program, clients would be put on home detention and continue to receive treatment as needed.

"All the judges right now are wanting to see community corrections more treatment-focused," Grissett said, adding that probation terms that include community corrections are often revoked because a client has used drugs.

She hopes a forensic diversion program would prevent clients from violating the rules and ending up back in jail.

Elizabeth DePompei is the digital editor for The News and Tribune. She has degrees in journalism and film from the University of Cincinnati and CUNY's Hunter College and was previously the paper's criminal justice reporter.

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