Chief justice says state courts feel burden of drug crisis

Keywords Courts / Judges / Law

A Lawrence County schoolteacher who lost her job after she fell victim to heroin addiction is emblematic of Indiana’s problem-solving courts, which Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush said are helping communities statewide deal with a crippling drug crisis.

“We cannot afford to incarcerate or institutionalize our way out of this drug crisis,” Rush said in her State of the Judiciary address Wednesday to the General Assembly. “Our approach must include helping sons, daughters, husbands and wives return to a life after addiction. There are no easy answers, but your courts stand ready to help communities bring productivity back to those who have lost their way.”

Rush saluted guest Lindsay Endris, 28, who was arrested and lost her job as a first-grade teacher after a painkiller prescription led to an addiction to heroin. Endris credits Lawrence County Drug Court with turning her life around.

“She said, ‘Drug court made me accountable. I had structure. This wasn’t just about getting sober, it was about coming to grips with what caused me to use,’” Rush said of Endris’ experience. Endris said upon graduating from drug court that the program “can and will restore your crumbling life,” Rush said.

Rush said the scourge of drug abuse is a problem that is seen repeatedly by trial court judges from all corners of the state, particularly heroin and methamphetamine. She noted Wayne County Judge Dave Kolger said that in 20 years as a prosecutor, he handled a total of 20 heroin cases, but now sees cases daily. She said Fayette County Judge Paul Freed “lamented that his county of 23,000 had 30 heroin overdoses in 30 days.”

Meanwhile, Rush said Department of Child Services Director Mary Beth Bonaventura reported a 30 percent increase in children entering the child welfare system, primarily because of parental substance abuse.  

Meanwhile, veterans courts also have grown in popularity, Rush said. “Nineteen new or expanded veterans courts will bring us to a total of 79 problem-solving courts statewide,” she said.

Rush’s address highlighted several other topics:

Expansion of electronic filing: Now in place for appellate courts and Hamilton County trial courts, e-filing will begin next week in courts in Clark County, followed by Harrison, Shelby, Wells, St. Joseph and Henry counties, Rush said.

Development of commercial courts: The groundwork was laid last year for venues to hear complex business cases, and Rush said six commercial courts will begin hearing cases this year.

— Juvenile courts: Indiana is the only state with a Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative partnership with all three branches of government, Rush said. This has resulted in lower recidivism rates, fewer minors being incarcerated and estimated savings of $15 million reported from the Department of Correction.

— More hiring: Increased funding from the Legislature allowed 43 counties to add 84 new correction and probation officers.

A transcript of Rush’s address is available here.

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