Pulaski County Looking to Problem-Solving Courts to Cut Recidivism Rate

Pulaski County has fewer and fewer people, but the county’s courts and probation office are only getting busier. Chief Probation Officer Chris Allen told the county council Monday that the number of people on probation has gone up over the past three years.

“In 2016, we had 229 adult probationers and 23 juveniles,” she said. “I just did the statistics. We have 358 adults and 33 juveniles, currently, on probation.”

When asked what’s driving those numbers, she said a lot of it boils down to drugs. “We have people continuing to test for meth,” Allen said. “Heroin is an issue. Even five years ago, I didn’t see the heroin we’re seeing now.”

Superior Court Judge Crystal Brucker Kocher told council members that in Pulaski County, offenders are generally more likely to get back into trouble than those in the rest of the state. She said the county’s recidivism rate is between 60 and 68 percent, compared to just 37 percent for Indiana as a whole. “So something is wrong in Pulaski County,” Kocher added, “and I think that’s something that’s wrong is that we are not providing any kind of services to these people that we are seeing in our system, to try to get them out of that cycle.”

But the county is taking steps to change that. Judge Kocher noted that problem-solving courts have proven to make a difference, by offering treatment programs. She added that now’s the time to implement them, since the state is willing to offer funding. Pulaski County has recently added a veterans court, and efforts are underway to add a family recovery court.

Chief Probation Officer Allen pointed out that in some families, problematic behavior is passed down from generation to generation. “When you turn 16, we think, ‘Ooh, get a license,’ When you turn 18, ‘Ooh, you get to vote,'” she said. “To them, going to jail is coming of age.”

Circuit Court Judge Mary Welker said family recovery courts offer a different approach by trying to keep the family unit together and holding both juveniles and parents accountable for each others’ behavior.

But beyond that, Allen said there are more tools than there used to be for addressing problematic behavior in juveniles. “We put them on in-home detention, just different things, where before, it was either lock them up or send them home,” she said. “So I think it’s more effective that way. Statistics prove that if you lock kids up in detention, that will probably make their behavior worse.”

When it comes to adults, Judge Welker said the new pretrial services program is not only saving the county money by keeping residents out of jail, but it’s also helping people set goals and get jobs.