Rural Indiana courts say transportation critical to SUD treatment

  • Author: Laurel Schwartz
  • Date: August 22, 2023

Judges in Western Indiana counties often see transportation access as a barrier to justice-involved individuals facing addiction. They partnered with their state’s Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office to award grants to folks in need, funded by the Federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the National Opioid Settlement.

Circuit Court Judges Hunter Reece and Stephanie Campbell serve rural Warren and Fountain Counties, which have about 23 people per square mile. While Indiana has about 55 circuit, superior, county, and city courts that focus on drug and alcohol programs, Judges Reece and Campbell’s courts serve small populations. But in 2020, Indiana saw over twice as many deaths from opioid overdoses than car crashes, many of them from rural communities without public transportation. The judges routinely encountered individuals who couldn’t access treatment programs, work, or even show up for court dates, because they didn’t have access to reliable transportation.


Free Ride Programs in Indiana

Judges Reece and Campbell applied for a $190,000 grant from Indiana’s FSSA, funded by the ARPA and the National Opioid Settlement and were awarded $164,978 to spend on transportation through 2025. “Judge Reece and I encounter transportation barriers in nearly all of our cases,” Judge Campbell told The Indiana Lawyer Magazine. “We have to take this into account in all varieties of cases when ordering defendants to participate in services,” he said.

Across Indiana, drug prevention programs, public health departments, and nonprofit partners have been implementing similar grant programs. Jay County, which has 53 people per square mile, was awarded $190,033 from the Opioid Settlement matching fund to “provide reliable transportation to places of employment, SUD and mental health treatment, court, and other services.”

Responding to the needs of the state, a significant portion of the ARPA funds that Indiana received were devoted to supporting rural communities like these. In their ARPA Toolkit, the Indiana Office of Community & Rural Affairs cited that Indiana’s unemployment rate was as high as 16.9% during the pandemic.

To bounce back, the agency recommended that government assistance, including transportation services, be provided to individuals seeking employment, underserved populations, and people who promote health and wellbeing in their communities. It also recommended “expansion of access to evidence-based services for opioid use disorder prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery.”


Transportation Critical Part of Recovery

The Center for Justice Innovation, a non-profit organization that provides expert assistance for justice practitioners, cites transportation as an essential element of opioid intervention courts.

Similarly, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent, non-partisan federal “congressional watchdog” recently issued a report reviewing adult drug court eligibility and why individuals decline to participate in adult drug court programs when given the opportunity.

In focus groups, individuals gave the GAO researchers specific examples. “To combat transportation issues, a few stakeholders said that they rely on adult drug court participants to provide rides to others in their cohort. A few other stakeholders said they provide services to participants such as resolution of traffic fines and suspended licenses or ride passes to mitigate transportation challenges,” they reported.

Transportation barriers, particularly in rural areas, concluded the GAO, were frequently cited as reasons why individuals didn’t participate in court drug programs.


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