INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Steve Raich figures a child could get a four-year private college education for the $148,000 a year it costs to incarcerate a juvenile offender in the United States.
“A kid who commits a non-violent crime maybe shouldn’t go to prison for 40 years with a brain that’s not developed,” he said. “Maybe there’s a better ways for us to deal with a person like that.”
Raich’s “One Heart” program, based in Texas, sends volunteer mentors behind bars to meet with America’s adolescent and teenage offenders in order to break the cycle of recidivism that potentially will lock up seven out of ten of those youngsters within three years.
“85% of these kids grow up in single parent homes so a lot of them haven’t really had influence to shape them in the right way. Many of them do think that the way to live is to be involved in crime.
“They know internally that there’s got to be a better way. They want a different life. They want a better life so most of them pursue it.”
Former IMPD Chief Troy Riggs and the Sagamore Institute are hosting “One Heart” volunteers and administrators in a training session with an eye on expanding the program across the country and, hopefully, into Indianapolis by the end of the year.
As of this morning, there were 69 teenagers incarcerated in the Marion County Juvenile Center, one offender for every two available beds, and 415 young people housed in Indiana Department of Correction facilities, 37 of them females.
“They may be 17 or 18 but emotionally they’re more like 12 or 13,” said Raich, “so you’re talking about a brain that is not fully developed but you’re also talking kids from a maturity, from an emotional and social stand point, that haven’t been developed either.”
“One Heart”, which former Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl Coach Tony Dungy has represented in talks with youngsters behind bars, stresses mentoring in one-on-one relationships, the teaching of life skills and decision making and follow-up support for teens who may not have a stable environment to return to once they are released from incarceration.
“How do we figure out ways to keep our young kids occupied in productive and meaningful ways and making good choices so that they don’t get ensnared by the criminal justice system to begin with?” Mayor Joe Hogsett asked during an announcement about the Indianapolis Violence Reduction Partnership to target the worst offenders in the city. “It really begins in investing in our youth at 14 and 15 and 16 and 17, hopefully with the ultimate goal of keeping them out of the criminal justice system altogether. So much time and so much energy is spent and has been spent in the past trying to figure out how we rescue young people from juvenile justice and criminal justice once they’ve made a mistake, once they’ve started down that path.”
Raich estimates his program can mentor a troubled youth back to society at a cost of $3,000 through the help of volunteer mentors and not-for-profit supporters.
“Whether it’s through mentoring or volunteering in a number of different capacities, there’s so many ways in which they can get involved.”
With the support and sponsorship of the Sagamore Institute, Riggs is hopeful to launch “One Heart” in Indianapolis no later than early 2018.