By Mark Powell
Replicating Success in Rural America
Judge Wendy Davis joined the Allen Superior Court bench in 2011. In the years since, she has seen thousands of cases involving substance misuse. “A lot of the men and women who appear before me are low-level, non-violent drug offenders who are placed on probation after conviction. However, when they are released, you can’t just say, ‘Ok, stop using drugs’ and expect them to do it. You have to help them to do it, or they’ll wind up right back in jail.”
In 2015, as Indiana’s statewide drug addiction epidemic reached crisis level, Judge Davis was asked to join the Governor’s Task Force on Drug Enforcement, Treatment & Prevention. She quickly encountered a problem common in many states.
“Most of the resources to combat addictions were flowing into major metropolitan areas,” Judge Davis remembers. “Here in Allen County, we were left fighting an uphill battle trying to get people help. We didn’t have enough beds for treatment, but I also knew that many of these people would be better served by treatment instead of incarceration.”
From that challenge, with the idea of recovery over jail, HOPE Probation (Hoosiers Opportunity Probation with Enforcement) was born.
Judge Davis discovered the HOPE Probation concept in Hawaii, where it was developed and launched by First Circuit Judge Steven Alm. She met with the judge and even sat in on court to witness it in operation. Judge Davis quickly decided it was the right idea for helping Allen County residents battling substance use disorders.
While on HOPE, clients must call every day and give a number that is unique to them. If they do not call or miss an appointment, a warrant is issued. Its purpose is to get them in front of Judge Davis, who acts as the chief probation officer. “This allows for high accountability,” she explains. Judge Davis wants HOPE clients to remain accountable and to confront their addictions head-on. When they receive a court order to be released to community corrections or to probation officers, they are then driven to treatment, which is based on an evidence-based assessment and is post-conviction.
Every Monday morning, Judge Davis meets with the HOPE Probation team. It includes the prosecutor, public defender, community corrections, service providers, probation, and a faith-based representative. They discuss clients and make decisions together as a team before court convenes.
To enter the program, the probation department puts together a pre-sentence assessment to determine eligibility. If Judge Davis sees a person with a long history of opiate misuse and if there is a needle charge, she recognizes they may need HOPE Probation. “I call them by their first name,” she adds. “I try to make them feel like humans and not criminals -- as long as they aren’t acting like criminals.”
Judge Davis recalls the case of a woman named Marisa. “She came to the program in its second year, charged with possession of methamphetamine. She kept violating her parole and was eventually sentenced to time in the Department of Corrections. When she got out, she did HOPE Probation. It worked for her. She’s still in recovery, recently graduated from college and is now running a halfway house.”
More than 900 people have participated in the program to date. So far, 354 people have graduated from it. Judge Davis shakes graduates’ hands, looks them in the eye, and personally delivers an important message: “Welcome to the community.”
HOPE Probation was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.