VERSAILLES – After Ripley County Circuit Court Judge Ryan King and Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Sharp took their offices in 2015, they successfully pursued a Community Corrections grant from the Indiana Department of Correction. The focus was to come up with alternatives to prison to lessen overcrowding.
At the same time, Ripley County Court Services was officially established. Instead of offices scattered in separate locations, now there's one entry point at the Versailles courthouse for community supervision – adult and juvenile probation plus Community Corrections.
Through various programs, the judges want offenders "to do something different than what they were doing before," explains Court Services director Shannon Schmaltz. "We want to do the most with the worst. We are trained to do an assessment and identify those who have the highest risk of re-offending. Our job is to reduce the recidivism rate in Ripley County."
The impact of that initial and subsequent grants plus forming Court Services has been astounding, according to a 2018 report that contrasts statistics before Court Services was formed vs. current Court Services operations:
• There has been over a $1 million increase in services and programs without additional costs to taxpayers.
• Over 22 office appointments per day (up 57 percent)
• Over 19 drug screens per day (up 220 percent)
• Over seven home visits per day including weekends (up 500 percent)
• Over 10 hours per week of community service (up 530 percent)
• 238 arrest warrants issued in 2018 (up 300 percent) and 78 arrested at Court Services, mostly for failed drug screens
• Court Services officer public presence has increased 12 times from 2014-18 based on the total miles driven by department vehicles.
"So many other counties" want to duplicate Ripley County Court Services successes and some have visited the department, he reports.
When asked how Court Services can do so much without using more taxpayer dollars, the director answers, "My job is to pursue a lot of grants." Last year three grants totalled $414,337. He also pointed out fees are collected from adult and juvenile probationers and those on Community Corrections. In 2018 those added up to $451,336, far more than the $90,049 collected in 1999.
Some Court Services statistics are up so dramatically because "the Community Corrections program allowed us to hire field officers to conduct home visits" so offenders could be observed in their natural environments. The staff has doubled from eight or nine to 17 in the past four years.
Then Schmaltz says one word that is the true secret to these accomplishments. Collaboration.
"There's been a push over the last five years, they're encouraging counties to tear down your silos and collaborate your resources." So Ripley County Court Services works with Margaret Mary Health, Indiana Department of Child Services, county schools, Southeastern Indiana Voices for Children, Ireland Home-Based Services and many other partners to brainstorm ideas and programs.
"I often use the word synergy ... Ripley County has actually been synergized over the last four years to create more than we had before ... and not at the expense of the taxpayers."
"Community Corrections is an umbrella of services" for persons who need different levels of supervision instead of serving their sentences in jail:
• CADS (Courts Addiction and Drug Services). Over 15 participants attend nine treatment hours each week. This partnership between Ripley County Court Services, MMH and Choices Emergency Response Team (CERT) is designed to treat and provide services to addicts who are considered at a high risk of relapse. It incorporates cognitive-based therapy, quality of life improvement, skills training, peer support services, guest speakers and relapse prevention. In addition to three drug screens per week, a Court Services field officer conducts weekly home visits in an attempt to reinforce behavior modification and skill-based learning. CERT helps provide wraparound support and links the client to recovery support specialist services, support meetings, employment opportunities, insurance, transportation and medication. So far 58 percent of CADS graduates have had no new criminal charges.
• home detention for those who have committed nonviolent crimes. "They're on a bracelet but we're out at their house two or three times a week checking on them."
• Soberlink, a professional grade breathalyzer that uses facial recognition to confirm identity. A wireless connection to an automated web portal allows real-time alerts and reports to go from the testing facility to Court Services.
• day reporting. Persons must call in every day and during some of those calls, they will be ordered to come to Court Services for a drug screen or alcohol test.
• MRT (moral reconation therapy) is a treatment strategy that seeks to decrease recidivism by increasing moral reasoning. The director and assistant director meet with adult and juvenile groups twice weekly.
• community service participants meet Saturday morning, Sunday afternoon or once during the week. 'We do a phenomenal amount," saving taxpayers money. Offenders have gutted two buildings that will become Versailles Community Center; demolished a Tyson Activity Center locker room so it could become the RCATS room; painted courthouse second and third floor interior walls; picked up trash in county communities ("We've collected over 3 tons of trash so far this year"); trimmed shrubs and other beautification projects
In addition to juvenile probation, Court Services oversees two other programs for youth:
• RCATS (Ripley County Alternative to Suspension) is for middle and high school students. Before this program, a student served a suspension at home, not much of a punishment. Now students do their schoolwork each morning at Tyson Activity Center, Versailles, and perform community service each afternoon. According to the director, "I have a strong belief it's going to impact the overall (county) graduation rate" and reduce juvenile delinquency. Now teens aren't home alone during the school day to get into trouble.
• AEP (Attend and Engage Program) ensures elementary-aged children adequately attend school and engage in their education. The director observes, "The higher you go in education, the least likely you are to engage in criminal activity." The program has decreased unexcused absences at Milan by 29 percent and at South Ripley by 17 percent.
Of these programs, he reflects, "People who have spent a lifetime being irresponsible, impulsive, not goal oriented ... are now asked to determine their destiny." Some refuse, not willing to do the work to change. But many would rather undergo treatment than do jail time.
What makes this job rewarding to Shannon Schmaltz? "I'm proud of the collaborative partnerships that we've been able to establish with individuals and agencies working toward a common goal. I was born and raised in Ripley County ... I'm thankful that I get to work with individuals who are trying to serve the needs and betterment of our county."
Debbie Blank can be contacted at email@example.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.