INDIANAPOLIS — Courts across Indiana are responding to the state's opioid drug abuse crisis by doing everything they can — and more.
That's the message Chief Justice Loretta Rush delivered this month to the General Assembly, Gov. Eric Holcomb, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and jurists throughout the state in her annual "State of the Judiciary" address.
The onetime Munster resident, and current co-chairwoman of the National Judicial Opioid Task Force, acknowledged that "addiction has swept into every community and is flooding every court — and not just in Indiana, but across our country."
"People often ask me the same question they are asking you: what can we do about this crisis? I have only one answer: together we have to do everything," she said.
Rush identified for lawmakers eight actions that Indiana judges, court officers and staff already have taken to address the devastating impact of drugs on Hoosier families.
- Convening teams from each county this July to participate in extensive training on treatment for substance use disorder that works;
- Developing with partners a judicial toolbox for effective and evidence-based court-ordered drug treatment;
- Extending the reach of problem-solving courts to have more then 100 such courts in place by the end of this year;
- Advancing drug courts in child welfare cases that involve the entire family in the parents' treatment;
- Expanding the corps of the Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, volunteers to assist the children of addicted parents;
- Supporting community corrections, pretrial and jail-based programs so drug treatment begins as early as possible;
- Leveraging court technology to slow the supply of drugs from hitting Indiana streets; and
- Supporting legislative efforts to expand treatment and prevention programs in communities.
Rush said the state court system is prepared to do even more to address Indiana's most emergent challenge if given the opportunity.
"This is a situation where well-reasoned, evidence-based judicial interventions can get people to treatment, give consequences, cut the supply, support families and save lives," Rush said.
Beyond tackling the opioid crisis, Rush said Indiana's court system in the past year has improved its technology, restructured its administration and beefed up training to make the most effective use of judicial branch appropriations that amount to less than 1 percent of annual state spending.
For example, she said the move to a statewide case management system and greater electronic filing of court documents — which now total more than 100,000 a week — have dramatically reduced the time and expense for Hoosiers interacting with their court system.
"Litigants can find their case status on their phones instead of missing work to go to the courthouse," Rush said. "And tens of millions of pages no longer need to be copied, stamped and physically filed.
"Our goal is for the entire state to be electronically filing within the next year."
Rush credited the business-like reorganization of numerous Supreme Court agencies into a single Office of Judicial Administration for helping to make the technological changes possible.
She also praised Indiana judges, court officers, child advocates, staff and clerks for having what she described as a unique willingness to participate in training initiatives on topics such as criminal justice reform, elderly needs, court technology, civil justice, commercial courts, racial bias, juvenile justice and bail reform, among others.
"We're staying ahead of the challenges we face through our commitment to rigorous education and training programs," Rush said.
The chief justice concluded her 25-minute address by introducing her four colleagues on the Indiana Supreme Court. They are Steven David, Mark Massa, Geoffrey Slaughter and Christopher Goff.
Rush noted that while all the current justices only have joined the high court since 2010, together they have a combined 150 years of legal and judicial experience.
"Our greatest strength is our collective decision-making ability," Rush said.
Following her speech, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, who also is a lawyer, praised Rush's focus on the opioid crisis and her efforts to improve court technology.
"Chief Justice Rush reaffirmed her support for helping those caught in the revolving door of incarceration due to drug addiction and assisting those who are left in its tremendous wake — Hoosier children," Bosma said.
"We also support her continued efforts to expand court technology, which is critical to improving efficiency and service for all Hoosiers who interact with our judicial system."
A video of Rush's full address is available to view online at nwi.com.