Holcomb signs bill to help incarcerated Hoosiers receive help for mental health and addiction

A bill signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb last Thursday will help many incarcerated Hoosiers gain easier access to treatment for mental health and substance use disorders. 

House Bill 1006, a priority of House Republicans this legislative session, easily moved through both chambers with bipartisan support: 91-0 in the House; 39-7 in the Senate. 

What’s happening

HB 1006 will formally create a mental health referral program for people who are in jail. 

Sheriffs, prosecutors and defense attorneys will be able to petition the courts to request that someone in jail be provided a mental health assessment.

Then, after the assessment, judges could refer the incarcerated person to a mental health provider as a condition of release before a trial or plea agreement. For people accused of violent crimes, the services could be provided inside secure facilities, such as the ones operated by the Department of Correction or the Division of Mental Health and Addiction.

“We wanted to make sure they got treated, but in a secure environment,” Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, who carried the legislation, told State Affairs in January. “We’ve made provisions for anybody with a mental illness to be treated.” 

The bill also clarifies state law around immediate and emergency detentions, which are the processes used to detain someone — such as a person who is threatening to harm themselves — against their will. 

Additional language added to the bill since its first draft will ensure doctors are more involved in the process.

Why it matters

For years, the majority of Indiana’s jails have been overcrowded because they have become the de facto mental health facilities in many Indiana counties. 

At least 70% of the people in Indiana’s jails are believed to have a mental illness or addiction, according to estimates by Indiana sheriffs. 

Many need access to drug treatment and medicine, such as buprenorphine or methadone. Additionally, some have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness. 

“Our system was literally broken,” Steve Luce, a former sheriff who is now executive director of the Indiana Sheriffs’ Association, told State Affairs in January. “The jail is not set up to take care of these individuals. It’s for pretrial individuals. Our facilities cannot handle these types of individuals over time.”

It can lead to devastating outcomes.

A 2021 IndyStar investigation found that a Hoosier was dying inside a county jail on average every two weeks over more than 10 years. The leading cause of death was suicide, IndyStar found, which amounted to 42% of the deaths. Three in 4 of those deaths occurred in jails that were flagged by state inspectors as overcrowded, understaffed or both.

What’s next 

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, praised the bill on the floor of the House this session, but he raised a familiar concern from prior years. 

He said local communities will need adequate funding from the General Assembly. He issued a request to his fellow lawmakers: Please continue funding mental health providers throughout the state. 

“If we can do that,” Pierce said, “we will really revolutionize what happens in our criminal justice system and what we see happening in the streets of our communities.”

Holcomb’s signing means the bill will become law in July. 

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Header image: Indiana lawmakers hope to fix overcrowded jails and mental health treatment. (Credit: Brittney Phan for State Affairs)