Women in prison find purpose through special programs as IDOC celebrates declining recidivism rates

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — There are less people returning to prison in Indiana after their release now than in the past six years, according to the Indiana Department of Correction 2018 Adult Recidivism Study.

The study measures whether people returned to prison three years after their release. Of the people released in 2018, 33.78 percent returned to prison for either a new conviction or a parole violation. Under those same parameters, the recidivism rates for 2013-2017 are 35.85 percent, 37.6 percent, 38.17 percent, 36.99 percent, and 33.87 percent.

CBS4 visited women at the Indiana Women's Prison who said their patterns of criminal thinking changed since coming into prison and participating in special programming, like the Indiana Canine Assistant Network. ICAN allows people incarcerated to help train a dog who will eventually assist a person with PTSD, a child with special needs or even children in a court setting or at a school.

The ICAN handlers are with the dogs around the clock. In order to have the privilege of being a part of this program, an incarcerated person must maintain a clean disciplinary record for a year and go through an application process.

"We push them," Carol Foster, program coordinator, said. "We push them if they want to stay in it. There's some people that can't keep up with the pace and can't keep up with the amount of things they have to learn."

Foster said the re-entry rate of women who leave prison who complete the ICAN program is 16 percent.

"It gives them self confidence," Foster said. "I can't tell you how many of them are employed in the dog business either in grooming or training. We have a really low recidivism rate."

Alkeia Blackmon is a senior handler, and she has trained 12 dogs in six years. ICAN holds a graduation ceremony every six months at the prison.

"Once I became a part of it and I saw how many lives it was changing and how much it helped people, and how much it helped me, I just felt like I was so privileged to be able to do this," Blackmon said.

Women in another program are learning life skills through One Net-One Life. They learn how to make mosquito nets for people in Africa to prevent the spread of Malaria.

"A lot of times in my past I was more selfish and being a part of this program, you can be selfless," Lara Campbell said. "Being able to give to people; we don't ever get to see these people, but it's not just giving, it's giving on a global level."

Campbell is no longer in this particular program, but she was one of the first people enrolled. She said she got as much in return as she put into creating the nets.

"A lot of times some of us have made some tough decisions and we've not been able to be the best mom, or the best daughter," Campbell said. "So this instills values and integrity and gives us some skills and employ-ability skills."

Brittany Kern is a leader for women in the One Net-One Life program.

"I feel like the more that you do to help someone, it will make that self-centeredness go away," Kern said.

Kern not only makes the mosquito nets, she is also an assistant to Lyndsey Lane who is a community engagement coordinator for IDOC. Kern helps Lane with office duties, which is a part of programming through the U.S. Department of Labor Apprenticeship.

"They learn basically how to manage an office," Lane explained. "That's where they keep track of the statistics and the donations."

This means Kern is learning on-the-job skills and training. Once Kern completes her apprenticeship, she will receive a Certificate of Completion.

IDOC says on their website, as soon as a person arrives at prison, they meet with a case manager to build a "case plan." It is based on criminal history, education, employment, family and social support, substance abuse and mental health as well as "criminal lifestyle." Once they know more about the person, they can connect them to programming which will hopefully give them the best chance of success in prison and when/if they re-enter society.

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