The Vigo County criminal justice system has seen its fair share of stress and progress in 2021 as courts navigate the COVID-19 pandemic while adjusting to fill service gaps in the system.
In addition to efforts to widen the backlog of criminal cases created as a result of COVID-related closings and delays, the Vigo County District Attorney’s Office used 2021 to expand its services.
In May, the office officially began its partnership with Indiana State University with the creation of a High Tech Crime Unit, or HTCU, to help local law enforcement agencies process digital evidence.
Four student investigators and two mentor professors were sworn in as special investigators for the Vigo County District Attorney and began helping to acquire and analyze digital evidence. Early efforts included developing evidence and accessing digital information in a murder case.
The Indiana Board of Attorneys received funding from the state legislature to establish 10 HTCUs across Indiana.
After a competitive five-month application process, Vigo County was selected to be one of the 10 host counties. The prosecutor’s office received a grant of $ 285,000 to establish and operate the Vigo County HTCU serving Vigo, Clay, Fountain, Hendricks, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan and Vermillion counties.
“Digital evidence is a steadily growing field, including cell phone communications and location data, computer forensics and surveillance recordings. This evidence not only strengthens investigations, it has also been used to exclude suspects from investigations, ”said prosecutor Terry Modesitt. “This program provides our student investigators with training, certifications and real-life experience, while helping law enforcement access and preserve important evidence.”
Following on from discussions initiated in 2020, the prosecutor’s office continued to work on establishing a juvenile drug court program.
Drug Court is an intensive program that provides services to people diagnosed with a substance use disorder. The goal of the Juvenile Drug Court is to provide alternatives other than trial and punishment to non-violent children and drug addicts to reduce drug addiction and criminal recidivism. After laying the groundwork throughout 2021, this program has been approved for funding by the Vigo County Council and will begin providing services in 2022.
Another new development in 2021 came when the Indiana Supreme Court authorized live video broadcasting of jury trials.
The entire court process had to be adapted to meet COVID security protocols, and jury trials were the area that needed the most adaptation.
From jury selection in large rooms allowing for social distancing, to reliance on new technologies to present evidence to the jury, to ensuring that all electronic devices worked to allow the public to always have access to the evidence. public hearings, many comfort zones have been extended.
“Jury trials require a lot of energy and preparation under the best of circumstances to prove a person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But we have faced the challenges and changes brought about by COVID and have been very successful in our jury trials and in resolving several major cases, ”Modesitt said.
The prosecutor said he was proud of the work of our assistant prosecutors, legal secretaries, child support officers and other support staff. Like most organizations, the office has had to adapt to the changes required by COVID.
“We made a smooth transition from working at home when the courthouse was closed to working at the office when circumstances permitted,” Modesitt said. “Our team continued to provide high level service to law enforcement, courts, the community and those who have been victims of crime throughout this difficult year.”
Vigo 6 Superior Court Chief Justice Michael Lewis said the situation with jury trials and the safeguards taken to protect jurors during the pandemic were major efforts for the justice system.
The establishment of a dual diagnosis and work release program through Vigo County Community Corrections has also changed the landscape of the justice system at the local level.
The relationship between addiction, mental illness and incarceration is well known to those who work in the criminal justice system on a daily basis.
The Dual Diagnosis Program helps inmates with the dual diagnosis of mental illness and addiction stay out of prison and move forward towards a stable and healthy future.
Established through the Vigo County Community Corrections Work Release Program, the Therapeutic Program accepts qualified participants discharged from Vigo County Jail.
Participants receive mental health treatment and appropriate counseling while residing in the out-of-home placement center. Social workers help people register with community treatment agencies such as the Hamilton Center and Wabash Valley Health Center, apply for housing, and follow court-ordered directions.
“This program bridges the gap between us and our community partners,” said Bill Watson, director of court services for Vigo County. “Often times things get overwhelming for these people as they try to do the many things the court wants them to do, such as registering for counseling, drug treatment and probation. So we have social workers who can help them through the process. “
The program also helps relieve overcrowding in the county jail by moving people to the community corrections program for pre-trial services.
Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.