Governor signs bill targeting prison-to-homelessness ‘pipeline’ in Indianapolis

A bill designed to address a prison-to-homelessness “pipeline” in Indianapolis was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb last Thursday.

House Bill 1087 will restrict the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) from dropping off formerly incarcerated people from other communities directly into Indianapolis’ homeless shelters — a practice that had drawn concerns from city leaders as resources grew thin for the capitol’s homeless population. 

The signing caps a monthslong process detailed by State Affairs during the legislative session

What’s happening

Prior to the bill, the IDOC could release a formerly incarcerated person into any requested community even if it wasn't the person's former home.

Some who did not have a place to go would request to be dropped off in Marion County, where there are a greater number of resources for people who are homeless. 

But Rep. Justin Moed, D-Indianapolis, carried the bill to require the IDOC to release people into their home communities in most circumstances. They can be taken to other communities if they have been accepted into a reentry program and have either a job or housing lined up. Judges can also order someone to be released in another community for something like home detention or probation. 

“We want to try to avoid this transportation of folks creating a pipeline from prison to homelessness,” Moed told a House committee in February. “We just want to work toward a goal of being thoughtful in how folks are coming out of the system, and where they’re going, to make sure they end up in the right place and head in the right direction.”

Why it matters

Nearly 3,400 people were released from Department of Correction custody into homeless shelters from 2018 to 2021, according to data provided to a state task force examining homelessness. Marion County saw a total of 993 people during the four-year period, or an average of 248 people per year. 

(Design by Brittney Phan for State Affairs)

It is unclear how many people were initially slated for shelter placement but then later found alternative housing arrangements. It is also unclear how many were released into homeless shelters located outside of a person’s home county. 

But the releases started coming at a time of stretched resources in Indianapolis.

The annual count for Marion County’s homeless population reached 1,761 last year, according to the nonprofit Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention. The number is 12% higher than the pre-pandemic levels recorded in 2019. 

The addition of people who aren’t from the area — and who, therefore, lack the family, housing or financial support to reintegrate into the community — contributes to the problems created by growing homelessness, said the Rev. David W. Greene Sr., who serves as a leader in the Indianapolis Continuum of Care, a group of organizations and people working to reduce homelessness. 

(Design by Brittney Phan for State Affairs)

“That creates a greater burden on our homeless system here in Indianapolis when we really are struggling to keep up,” Greene told State Affairs in February. “It’s been going on for years.”

What’s next 

After passing through the House this session, the Senate added a minor amendment to make the bill less burdensome on the IDOC. The House accepted the changes and sent it to Holcomb’s desk.

His signing means the law will take effect in July. 

Contact Ryan Martin on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or at [email protected].

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Header image: House Bill 1087 aims to address a prison-to-homelessness “pipeline,” according to Rep. Justin Moed, D-Indianapolis. (Credit: Brittany Phan for State Affairs)