Outside The Bars: A Special Report (VIDEO)

By Jeff Neumeyer

May 10, 2013 Updated Nov 22, 2013 at 9:21 PM EDT

INDIANA (www.incnow.tv) --- New criminal sentencing guidelines for Indiana kick in next year to try and reduce state prison costs.

In a special report called "Outside the Bars", we profile an Allen County alternative sentencing program that may be asked to manage more offenders under changes that are coming.

The HOPE Probation program allows participants to avoid prison, provided they measure up under an intensive monitoring program.

One of the big questions: is society going to be comfortable with expansion of this kind of concept.

" I really want help, but you can't just wake up one day and snap your fingers and you're going to get clean," said Marissa Hanlon, whose addiction problems with meth and heroin put her in hot water with the law.

She was placed in HOPE Probation and given a last shot at staying out of prison.

Offenders in Allen County have been dealing with probation for years.

On HOPE Probation, they're subject to tighter controls over their actions, and there's not a lot of tolerance if they mess up.

For months, Marissa has lived under strict rules at Redemption House, a halfway house for women on Fairfield Avenue.

Probation officials watch her like a hawk.

She must phone in daily, and can be required on any given day to submit a urine sample to prove she has not returned to abusing drugs.

One slip up can put her back in handcuffs.

Rather than complain, Marissa accepts the scrutiny with gratitude.

" If I wouldn't have been given a chance, I'd be in prison right now, and I wouldn't be able to have touched the people's lives who I've touched right now in a positive way."

“ I was put in a jam, either keep messing up the way I have and lose my family, or go the straight road, narrow road," says Chad Hill, another HOPE Probation offender who is being given the chance to live with his wife and kids and work full-time, rather than do time in prison for marijuana crimes.

The state legislature this past session passed reforms, enhancing penalties for murderers, rapists and other violent offenders.

But they also intend to steer non-violent offenders, especially drug abusers, away from prison, to community-based treatment and monitoring programs.

Allen Superior Court Judge Wendy Davis, who oversees 160 offenders on HOPE Probation, acknowledges it's a concept that makes some people nervous.

Where will the money come from to deal with a crush of new offenders in things like drug court, community corrections, and work release?

And will public safety be compromised?

" We cannot release these individuals without knowing that they are monitored effectively, that they are monitored efficiently, and they are monitored to a point that there's no safety issue to the community," Judge Davis said.

The good outcomes show the potential of what can be.

" I have a bank account again, and I got a paycheck and so, next is a vehicle and a place to live. I am once again a respectable citizen of society," said Marissa Hanlon.

State lawmakers delayed the effective date of the reforms to July 2014, affording time for a study committee to work on the best way to allocate money to county governments, to offset costs incurred to run beefed up local offender programs.

Proponents argue public safety will not be jeopardized, because only non-violent offenders are supposed to be turned away from prison.

It’s hard to say what would happen to public support, however, in the event any of the freed offenders commits serious crimes while outside prison bars.
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