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Monroe County Prison holds a meeting to discuss a planned inmate peer assistance program



Bloomington, Indiana – A group of about thirty community members met on Monday night to talk about Integrated Reentry and Correctional Support, a peer support program headquartered in Indiana that could soon be introduced in the Monroe County Jail.

Alongside Jayme Whitaker, vice president of Indiana Forensic Services and executive director of IRACS, commissioner Penny Githens chaired the discussion. Mental Health America of Indiana is the parent organization of IFS.

Inmate participants at IRACS-affiliated jails collaborate with an internal team that assists with recovery planning, accountability, and re-entry resource navigation. Support consists of both individual and group consultations. Participation by inmates is entirely voluntary.

Members of IRACS teams are not clinicians, in contrast to social workers or psychiatrists. Rather, they are accredited peer specialists – individuals in drug and alcohol recovery who have undergone training to assist those with comparable problems.

The first IRACS projects were implemented in the jails of Blackford, Daviess, Dearborn, Delaware, and Scott County in 2022. According to Whitaker, statistics from those websites showed a 75% success rate, which he characterized as clients staying on the services.

Since last year, Whitaker and the commissioners’ office have been in communication. The purpose of Monday’s gathering was to determine community support for the program.

Since its establishment, IRACS has grown to include two more counties: Fayette and Clark, which were added in July. Now, several dozen counties are fighting for a spot, including Monroe.

According to Whitaker, the first year’s implementation in Monroe County would probably cost about $425,000. Posts inside the jail are funded by grants from Recovery Works, an Indiana Family and Social Services Administration program. Posts outside the jail would be funded by Monroe County. Services are available to participants for the first month following their return to the community.

Githens raised the prospect of supporting IRACS with government cash or proceeds from opiate settlements. About $2 million will be awarded to Monroe County as a result of a nationwide lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin. The money will be disbursed over eighteen years, to support harm reduction and drug treatment initiatives.

Githens also mentioned in a press release dated February 23 that lower recidivism rates linked to IRACS could result in financial savings and allow for the funding of the program. Whitaker projected that so far, the number of inmates in participating jails had decreased by 25%.

Big Boy’s Moving owner AJ Jackson urged the county to put more money toward hiring companies that accept applicants with criminal histories rather than funding a different nonprofit organization that has limited ability to improve the prospects available to inmates. Jackson stated that there are “enough nonprofits in our community at this time.”

Whitaker retorted that rather than giving out materials straight, one of IRACS’s primary objectives is to assist users in finding and using them. According to him, IRACS collaborates with already-established NGOs in each participating county to provide services.

For several years, Monroe County has been organizing the construction of a new jail. The ACLU launched a federal court complaint in 2008, claiming that the circumstances within the prison were unconstitutional. As part of the settlement, the county agreed to eventually construct a new jail.

Since taking over jail administration last year, Sheriff Ruben Marté’s office has voiced numerous issues with the institution’s infrastructure and lack of inmate programming.

There are 200 or so prisoners housed there daily. Services for the entire facility are provided by two mental health specialists. In September 2023, the Justice Fiscal Advisory Committee suggested the County Council add a third member.

Assistant jail commander Phil Parker stated that although staff members deal with immediate crises, it is challenging to provide convicts ongoing mental health treatment and reentry services due to the facility’s small space and little funding.
Parker stated, “We’re reactive right now.”

The outcomes of an assessment conducted on-site at the jail are still awaiting. By the end of March, according to Whitaker, he hopes to know whether Monroe County is still eligible to participate in IRACS. The implementation might start as early as 2025 if the county is selected.




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