HANCOCK COUNTY — Morgan Walker, the new head of the Hancock County Community Corrections (HCCC) program, believes training and rehabilitation can make a world of difference contributing to the success or failure of inmates trying to straighten out their lives.

“I have experience in both probation and community corrections as well as problem solving courts, and I plan to use my experience to grow Hancock County Community Corrections,” she said in an email to the Daily Reporter.

Walker is just a few weeks into her new role as the leader of the HCCC program, a group looking to set new goals and help as many inmates get on track as possible.

Walker comes to the new positron after working for many years as the Director of Community Corrections and Alternative Programming in Wayne County. She replaces former HCCC Director Wade Kennedy, who stepped down in June following the filing of a racial discrimination federal lawsuit against three employees there.

“I want to be able to grow the department and be able to show the community what a positive impact we can have in the community,” Walker said.

For Walker, it’s all about moving forward, setting new standards and putting inmates wishing to change their lives into a good position to do so.

“I am a very involved leader,” Walker said when asked to describe her leadership style. “I won’t ask staff to do anything that I am not wiling to do.”

Walker noted she will hold her staff to a high standard when it comes to following standards and setting goals for growth within the department.

“Case Management and programming are going to be a large part of community corrections,” she said.

The HCCC program has not been able to take on the work release segment of the program since it was shut down during COVID. However, Walker noted that could change in the not-too-distant future if all the pieces fall into the right places.

“It is important to have both a compliance piece of supervision as well as a case management piece where staff can help clients address needs and goals to reduce recidivism,” Walker said. “It is still to be determined if work release will return. I would like it to return in the near future, however there are many pieces that need to be in place first.”

Walker and those working with her have what can be a difficult job, trying to help inmates serve their time while also making sure they don’t re-offend. The plan with HCCC is rather to set new standards and goals for inmates to help them lead better lives.

“It is difficult as we want to see our clients succeed,” Walker said. “Sometimes we have to file violations as we have a job to do and rules have to be followed. Ultimately, our goal is to help those we serve and work with our clients to move forward.”

Wayne Addison, the head of the Hancock County Pre-trial Release Program, was the chair of the advisory search committee and made the recommendation to county officials to hire Walker.

Addison noted at the time of her hiring, he and the vice president of the advisory search committee, Josh Sipes, the head of the Hancock County Probation Department, worked hard to narrow the list of some 70 applicants to get to their top pick, which was Walker.

“She checked all the boxes, had all the experience we were looking for,” Addison said. “Plus, she has a great deal of experience with writing grant proposals, and we felt that was very important.”

The county’s community corrections program came under scrutiny following the May 19 filing of a federal lawsuit against Kennedy’s former department. The lawsuit, which is still pending, is against the Hancock County Board of Commissioners and three HCCC officers.

The federal lawsuit states Ja’Michael Bryant, 21, Indianapolis, a former inmate with the HCCC program, was subjected to an unlawful and unreasonable discrimination based on his race. He also suffered embarrassment, humiliation, loss of income, and other damages, the lawsuit states.

Bryant, who is black, was convicted of dealing marijuana and sentenced to a year-and-a-half term through the HCCC Home Detention Program in November of 2022.

According to the lawsuit, one of the field officers called Bryant, who did not answer the phone. However, the phone did not disconnect but instead recorded a conversation about Bryant by the three community corrections officers, who allegedly degraded Bryant because of his race.

The hiring and start of Walker as the new leader for the HCCC program brings a fresh start and a different approach to what Walker noted will be a positive community service program.