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(INDIANAPOLIS) – Indiana’s courts are working with police, legislators and others to thread the needle on jail overcrowding.

In her annual State of the Judiciary address, Chief Justice Loretta Rush says the opioid epidemic has flooded Indiana’s courts, and jail often isn’t the best answers. She says judges need the best possible risk assessments to assess which offenders represent a danger to the community if released, and then should release lower-risk offenders without bail.

Rush calls the justice system “the single biggest referral source to get someone to treatment.” She says judges need to recognize addiction is a brain disease, not a moral failure, and treat defendants accordingly to get them the help they need.

Rush salutes the expansion of problem-solving courts which steer people into drug counseling or mental health treatment. There are now 107 across the state, and Rush says more are in the works.

Rush made one request to legislators — she says there needs to be more funding for the state’s legal aid program to make sure people who can’t afford attorneys can still get one. The chief justice says she visited a small-claims court recently and watched a judge zip through nearly 300 eviction cases in a single morning — with not one of the tenants represented by a lawyer. She says that’s inconsistent with the pursuit of a legal system which ensures equal justice for all.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush (center) with Gov. Eric Holcomb (left) and Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch at the start of her State of the Judiciary address. (Photo: Indiana Supreme Court)