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City-County Council allows federal grants for public defender’s office

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Officials with the public defender’s office on Monday said a new round of federal grants will help them keep people from getting into the criminal justice system.

The city-county council on Monday night unanimously approved approximately $1 million in federal Justice Assistance Grants for various public safety uses. The largest share went to IMPD for body armor, narcotic identification equipment and LIDAR systems. The prosecutor’s office got funding for a deputy prosecutor. The public defender’s office received nearly $86,000 to cover two social worker positions.

Abbie Rust-Elam, the office’s social services administrator, said DOJ grants have funded a portion of the office’s 39 social worker positions since 2017. This is the second year in a row the funding has specifically covered the office’s post-release unit, set up in the summer of 2021.

“Because of the number of people who are incarcerated and the lack of social workers we had, we had a quick kind of turnaround system where we would do what we needed to do to hopefully get someone out of custody and onto the street and then we would quickly have to move on to the next person,” she said. “We didn’t have the manpower to really follow along with some of our higher-need clients to see if we could continue addressing their needs and supporting them.”

Rust-Elam said the unit’s social workers, including the two receiving federal funding, will follow up with people after they have been released from custody. She said those personnel will work with clients on needs such as housing or mental health needs. Rust-Elam said addressing those needs not only will drive down rearrest rates but also help address deeper needs in the community.