Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed a pair of bills into law last week that are expected to make major changes in the availability of mental health services for Hoosiers.

Senate Bill 1, which was co-authored by Senator Eric Bassler (R) Washington and co-sponsored in the Indiana House by State Representative Shane Lindauer (R) Jasper, and House Bill 1006 are expected to provide more than $100 million in mental health services throughout the state.

“The two bills work hand-in-hand,” said Lindauer. “Senate Bill 1 provides a crisis hotline. It created a commission to explore the problem because there is a lot that we don’t know. It will collect data regarding mental health and that should give us some additional information moving forward.”

SB 1 will begin the process of building an infrastructure so that people in crisis have a place to turn. It calls for the expansion of the 988 Crisis Response Center. It will also make more mental health services available state wide.

The information lawmakers already have is staggering. The Indiana Behavioral Health Commission estimated mental health issues cost the Indiana economy $4.2 billion annually. That includes $885 million in direct productivity loses and $556 million in care-giving provided by family members.

In addition, the Kaiser Foundation reports that Indiana death rates from suicide, opioid overdoses and substance misuse is above the national average while more than 60% of Hoosiers suffering from mental illness do not receive any treatment.

The limited treatment has wound up filling jails and prisons across the state. That is where HB 1006 is expected to have an impact.

“The thinking is a lot of folks wind up incarcerated and they would really be better served if they would receive mental health assistance. We are trying to get them that kind of help rather than just putting them in jail,” said Lindauer. “They do their time and then they wind up right back in jail. We are considering recidivism rates. I have had conversations with some of our local law enforcement that say some of these people are not well served by putting them in jail and then expecting them to be better.”

Daviess County Sheriff Gary Allison says dealing with those with mental illness is an increasingly familiar problem at the jail.

“We see it. We wind up incarcerating mentally ill people and they don’t get better. The jails and prisons have become the de facto mental health institutions,” said Allison. “The things we deal with are often beyond simple substance abuse. We are talking about the paranoid-schizophrenics. We are talking about the whole gamut of mental health. We have those issues in our jail.”

Officials say HB 1006 should give law enforcement the tools to get people with mental health issues out of the criminal justice system and into treatment.

“It gave local law enforcement the ability to transfer people somewhere, to a facility that deals more with mental illness instead of a jail or corrections facility,” said Lindauer. “There will be some discretion there. If there are safety issues or the person is violent that will be taken into consideration.”

Allison says he intends to begin bringing in more mental health professionals to deal with the 150 prisoners who regularly fill the local jail.

“I am going to try and bring more mental health services into the security center. We need to get mental health agencies to get on board to help these people. That is the issue for us down here,” said Allison. “It will put more on us, but we are hoping this will give us some help in dealing with the mental health issues we have at the jail. The hope is that we can get them treatment. Get them on their medications and get them to stay on their medications.”

One issue that may slow down the implementation of the treatment of prisoners may be the lack of secure facilities for those with mental illnessesl. Currently the state has a few prison units for those patients, but there is no money in the bills to expand that.

“We did discuss creating secure mental health facilities, but the decision was that would not help the problem. Neither bill wound up including building new facilities. That is not to say that won’t be discussed in future sessions,” said Lindauer who calls the two new laws just the start of a more intense approach to mental health in Indiana. “I am not under the illusion that these two bills will fix the problem. I think the goal is that we start re-thinking how we approach some of these issues. There is still work to do.”

“We are hoping this will be a good beginning toward getting some good mental health treatment to people that get arrested in Indiana,” added Allison.

State officials estimate 22% of all Hoosiers experience mental health issues each year. In 2021, 344 Indiana military veterans who struggled with mental health committed suicide.

React to this story:


Trending Video

Recommended for you