The state plans to divert more criminal offenders with mental health or substance abuse issues to treatment through the Recovery Works initiative.

The program provides $30 million over the next two years for designated agencies that treat felony offenders for mental illness or drug addiction in lieu of their being incarcerated. Porter-Starke Services, based in Valparaiso, is the only participating agency so far in Northwest Indiana.

"Lots of courts across the state have diversion programs or community correction programs, but their access to services was limited because of a lack of funding," said Kevin Moore, the director of the state Family and Social Services Administration's division of mental health and addiction.

Nationally, public officials from both parties have been enacting measures to reduce the U.S. prison population by treating drug addiction as a medical, rather than criminal, issue. The Indiana Department of Correction estimates that more than 80 percent of its inmates need substance abuse treatment.

The state changed its sentencing laws in recent years to keep low-level felony offenders, many who are sentenced for nonviolent drug crimes, out of state prison.

In addition, Gov. Mike Pence earlier this fall formed a statewide task force to try to tackle the state's drug-abuse crisis. His recommendations so far include increasing the availability of the anti-overdose drug naloxone, expanding substance abuse education to youths, and developing guidelines for prescribing pain medication.

The funding for Recovery Works was made available in a criminal justice bill passed by the state Legislature during the recent session. It earmarked $10 million the first year and $20 million the second to agencies that provide mental health and addiction treatment to felons on Medicaid or without insurance.

Moore, of FSSA, said he expects his agency to certify more agencies in Northwest Indiana soon.

"This is predicated upon the fact that both mental health and substance abuse treatment work," he said. "This funding represents the core, foundational belief that people can recover. People can get better."

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Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.