SOUTHERN INDIANA — Clark County Probation officer Josh Seybold had to take a deep breath before he could even start to explain how satisfying it is to witness someone overcome addiction’s clutch.

“To see somebody rise above the depths of addiction is just absolutely amazing,” he said. “It is the most natural high you can ever achieve.”

But the feeling is one Seybold experiences all too rarely. Of the roughly 120 people under his supervision, Seybold estimates that between 35 and 50 of them are in the throes of a significant drug addiction. Half his caseload will likely violate their terms of probation, including drug use, within the first six months of probation.

“We’re placed in a position with these people to care about them, to try to help them out and to keep them out of the criminal justice system, which is the ultimate goal; however, seeing them countless times, it can be mentally exhausting to try to do everything you can possibly think of to help this individual and continue to see them struggle,” Seybold said.

The rise of heroin use across Southern Indiana and the rest of the country has made the revolving door between addiction and the criminal justice system rotate even faster, leaving courts overburdened and jails overcrowded. Despite efforts to address the epidemic from inside the system, many of the people being helped continue to live in a cycle of addiction.

JAIL BECOMES A SAFETY NET

It’s not the kind of problem the system was built for, but those in a position to make a difference say they’re confronting it anyway.

Clark County Circuit Court No. 2 Judge Brad Jacobs saw 1,200 new felony cases filed in his court last year. He estimates that roughly half his caseload involves heroin in one way or another. And it’s not uncommon for Jacobs to see the same person on new charges within the month.

“It seems like the people who are on heroin, who get arrested for heroin, are coming back more frequently,” Jacobs said. “They just pick up another case and another case, and so they’re clogging up the system more than they’re moving through.”

In Floyd County, Superior Court Judge Susan Orth sees cases related to opioid abuse almost daily, whether it’s a possession case or a theft somehow connected to drugs.

“We’ll have days when people are actually actively high standing in front of us,” Orth said.

Sometimes, family members will try to get their loved one out of jail as soon as possible. Others know that keeping that person in jail may be their best option.

“They know they’re safe. They know that they’re not going to be getting any more drugs and they can detox,” Orth said.

Jail might be the best place someone can to detox, Floyd County Sheriff Frank Loop said. If corrections officers know that someone being booked in has recently used and could experience withdrawal, the jail will send that person to the hospital until he or she is medically cleared.

But not everyone divulges their drug use. If officers notice symptoms of withdrawal — such as vomiting, sweating and diarrhea — that person is put under observation and eventually connected with the jail’s mental health provider. According to the jail’s licensed mental health professional, around eight people were on observation on a recent Monday.

The jail holds around 280 inmates, many of whom are incarcerated on drug-related charges. Loop said the female population “skyrocketed” alongside the opioid epidemic. So much so that he has to have up to 10 female inmates housed in the Clark County jail to accommodate them.

“Jails don’t want this problem, but if you look at our local area here, where are we going to send these people?” Loop asked.

FINDING THE RIGHT FIT

Drug treatment is finding its way into the local criminal justice system more than ever, but it’s not a new idea. Clark County had a Drug Treatment Court program as early as 2002. By 2014, the program was mired in accusations of mismanagement and wrongful incarceration.

The program was suspended and eventually fizzled. A lawsuit involving 20 plaintiffs against former program employees and the judge who oversaw it at the time is pending.

Seybold is one of those former program employees. He declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said drug treatment programs that follow best practices set out by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals work “very well.”

Jacobs isn’t sure if mismanagement led to the Drug Treatment Court program’s downfall or if it was the nature of the program. Essentially, it was an alternative to a heavy prison sentence.

“Anybody will go into recovery no matter how strict it is if you’re looking at prison for 10 years,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs has his sights on a new program he says could be “the holy grail.”

The Clark County jail is in talks with LifeSpring Health Systems to create a “therapeutic pod” in the jail. The pod would house only inmates placed in a 90-day, pre-trial recovery program.

LifeSpring Vice President of Forensic Services Denise Poukish said the segregated pod could offer a welcome relief from the negative influences often inherent in the jail’s general population.

“If you’re not recovery focused, then we can’t work with them, because it just causes repercussions for them when they go back into the pod and somebody else is talking about can’t waiting to get out and get high,” she said.

CHOOSING SOBRIETY

Officials agree it’s not an ideal solution, and certainly not the only solution, but as long as people addicted to heroin are coming into the criminal justice system, the opportunity to help shouldn’t be overlooked.

A Greenville woman who has been on probation and under Seybold’s supervision more than once, can attest to the value of that opportunity. She speaks openly about her battle with drugs, but requested to remain anonymous to protect her family’s privacy.

Now 28 years old, she’s been in and out of jail more times than she can count. She started drinking when she was 13, and her substance use progressed from there. By her 20s, she found herself injecting heroin and selling drugs.

Around five years ago, she successfully completed the drug court program.

“I went into drug court because I wanted out of jail. I didn’t want to go in, because who wants to go to drug court,” she said. “And then, I got something from it.

But it didn’t take long for her to relapse.

Later, when she was incarcerated on new drug charges at the Madison Correctional Facility, something clicked. She voluntarily entered an 18-month recovery program that ran Monday through Friday, morning to afternoon.

“I was like, well, I’ll just take this time to get myself together,” she said. “And it was such a blessing. It was great.”

When she was released back to Clark County she had the tools to stay sober. She requested Seybold as her probation officer, knowing that he was compassionate, but tough. Still, she knows her recovery is ultimately up to her.

“I don’t think you can force somebody to get sober,” she said. “However, if you put them in a situation where they have really kind of no other options ... sometimes they choose the right road.

“It’s not always going to be successful, but there’s a lot of people that are going to get sober if you force them into the situation. Because when you get into a situation, you adapt.”

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