- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

PLAINFIELD, Ind. (AP) - A new prison program aimed at reducing Indiana’s recidivism rate will provide low-level, first-time offenders in character and faith-based programming, job training and other tools, Gov. Mike Pence said Thursday.

The First Time Offender Program will convert the Plainfield Short Term Offender Program into the Heritage Trail Correctional Facility and also offer addiction recovery services, family and social support, mentoring and behavioral change programs, the Department of Correction said. The prison will remain privately run by the GEO Group.

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

Pence said the new program is aimed at reducing Indiana’s rate of nearly 36 percent of ex-inmates returning to prison within three years of their releases.

Inmates eligible for the new program must be low- to moderate-risk male offenders, new to prison and serving sentences up to three years. They also must free from medical and mental health restrictions that would require placement in other prisons.

Keeping these first-time offenders separated from higher-risk offenders allows them to make better use of rehabilitative programming and reduces their risk of committing future crimes, the DOC said.

“For some of these individuals, this is their last chance to turn their life around or face more time in prison,” DOC Commissioner Bruce Lemmon said in a statement. “By providing a structured environment focused on instilling family values and strong work ethic, we hope to break the cycle of crime.”

The program will begin Friday with 88 inmates. Eventually, close to 900 first-time offenders will be housed at Heritage Trails.

Money for the program is coming from the DOC’s existing budget, state officials said.

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

GEO Group has operated the prison in Plainfield, about 15 miles west of Indianapolis, since 2011.

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