New program aims to reform first-time offenders

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – 20,000 inmates are released from Indiana prisons every year and more than a third of them return to prison within three years.

Starting Friday, a new effort to change those statistics will keep first-time offenders who are a low-to-medium security risk out of the general population in Indiana prisons.

Instead, they will get special treatment designed to turn them into productive members of society that is being called a first-of-it’s-kind program.

An old prison in Plainfield will be renamed the Heritage Trails Correctional Facility and will be home to first-time offenders.

“I want Indiana to be the worst place in America to commit a serious crime,” said Governor Mike Pence. “But, I want Indiana to be the best place in America once you’ve done your time to get a second chance.”

So, going forward, to get into Heritage Trails, a prisoner must be deemed a low or medium security risk who is serving a term of three years or less.

“If you’re going to be doing a lengthy sentence, might be your first time incarcerated, but you would not be eligible for this program,” said Correction Commissioner Bruce Lemmon.

And for those eligible, there will be character and faith-based programs combined with mentoring and job training as well as treatment for addiction.

“First time offenders ought to be dealt with in a way that is focused on reformation,” Gov. Pence said.

Eventually, close to 900 first-time offenders will be housed at Heritage Trails and, according to state officials, it will all be done within the existing budget for the Department of Correction.

Much of the mentoring and job training will be done by volunteers, some of whom are former inmates.

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