Officials to attend mental health summit


HANCOCK COUNTY — Local officials who deal with defendants — those who have committed crimes — estimate between 30 and 45% of the offenders may have a mental health issue which is a direct cause or contributing factor to the crimes they committed.

If officials count all of the people who say they have anxiety or depression, the number could rise to as high as 55 to 60%, officials say.

“Many offenders were diagnosed with a mental health issue when they were teens, but have not had treatment or seen a mental health professional since,” the county’s pre-trial probation officer Wayne Addison said. “We then find that lack of treatment is an underlying factor to their current issues.”

A team of local leaders associated with the state judicial system plan to attend a mental health summit put on by the state this week in Indianapolis.

Communities from across the state say they are working to improve responding to mental health needs and that includes for people involved in the courts. The teams are gathering as part of a statewide Mental Health Summit, Friday, Oct. 21 at the Indiana Convention Center.

Addison said they are using the local Community Corrections Advisory Board as their local Justice Reinvestment Advisory Council (JRAC) board and they’ve been working very hard to try and recognize and serve folks with mental health issues in the judicial system.

As the county’s pre-trial release officer, he’s able to screen all the new people brought to jail.

“I can then make referrals to Behavioral Health Court, Drug Court, release of non-violent offenders without having to post a money bond, or get mental health assessments,” he said. “I believe what we are doing in Hancock County is right in line with what the summit will want us to do.”

In addition to Addison, county prosecutor Brent Eaton said he planned to attend the meeting as does the head of county’s probation department, Josh Sipes along with a member of Hancock County Superior Court 1, Behavioral Health Court team leader Kevin Minnick. Judge D.J. Davis, who helped get the Behavioral Health Court up and running in Superior Court 1 is still out on medical leave and will not be able to attend the meeting, his family said.

In the 2022 State of the Judiciary, Chief Justice Loretta Rush described the importance of all three branches of government working together on mental health needs, including the implementation of the national mental health hotline.

“It’s the future of crisis care—a hotline for mental health emergencies where the immediate crisis response is connected to the infrastructure in place,” Rush said in a press release.

The summit will bring together teams who currently serve as community leaders for their local JRAC. Local JRAC teams were created in 2021 through legislation passed unanimously in both the Indiana House and Senate. HEA 1068, signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb, creates local criminal justice stakeholder groups to improve public safety and create community well-being.

Officials noted they expect community teams from 92 counties to attend the Mental Health Summit and the teams will include judges, prosecutors, public defenders, chief probation officers, sheriffs, county council members, county commissioners, community corrections directors and representatives from local community mental health centers.

Officials are expecting some 900 attendees who will be welcomed by Rush, Holcomb, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray and House Speaker Todd Huston.

The summit is being held in partnership with the Association of Indiana Counties; Family and Social Services Administration, Division of Mental Health & Addiction; Indiana Governor’s Office; Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council; Indiana Public Defender Council; Indiana Sheriffs Association; Indiana Supreme Court; National Center for State Courts; National Judicial Task Force to Examine State Courts’ Response to Mental Illness; and with funding support provided by the State Justice Institute.