- Associated Press - Friday, April 22, 2016

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A cultural and spiritual program meant to lower recidivism rates at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation by partnering successfully reintegrated ex-convicts with recently released offenders kicked off Friday on the community that straddles the North Dakota and South Dakota border.

The ex-cons are expected to mentor the individuals returning to the reservation to help them acclimate to life after prison and avoid an all-too-common cycle that can land them back behind bars.

Two men and two women were partnered with two mentors Friday in Fort Yates, North Dakota - the first since federal prosecutors from both states and tribal leaders began working on the program since December 2014. The U.S. Justice Department prosecutes the most serious crimes on reservations.

“What we are hoping is that if we re-introduce our heritage, our culture, our spirituality back into young people’s lives, it will encourage them to engage in better behavior, that it will help keep them on the right path and avoid the pitfalls that lead them to being sent back to prison because out of boredom or out of lack of positive influences, they engage in behavior that is prohibited by the terms of their supervision,” said Troy Morley, assistant U.S attorney and tribal liaison for the district of South Dakota.

The program plans to partner up to six people per mentor, and eventually would have a mentor in each of the reservation’s districts. The reservation is slightly bigger than the state of Connecticut and not everyone who is volunteering in the program has the resources to travel across the community.

Morley said ex-cons were selected to be the mentors because their previous experiences will give them “credibility.”

“They need that connection to this young people to say ‘Hey, I’ve been there. I’ve been where you are at. I know the way out. I know the way to lead a successful life. I understand the problems you’re going through. This is how you survive. This is what worked for me day to day so I didn’t end up going back to prison,’” Morley said.

The program precedes, by a few days, the Justice Department’s “National Reentry Week,” during which the Bureau of Prisons will coordinate re-entry events, including job fairs, mentorship programs and gatherings for children of incarcerated parents, at facilities across the country.

Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said recently released inmates who are placed in halfway houses off the reservation tend to stay out of trouble because they can secure jobs and find much-needed help while they adjust to life after prison, but some of those who return to their community fall back into the same rut because of the lack of available help.

“So, if there’s something to give them reason to be successful, let’s find it,” Archambault said. “And it could be anything. If somebody finds Jesus, their whole life changes. If somebody finds their culture, their spirituality, their whole life changes. So, let’s explore this option because what we are doing now does not work.”

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Follow Regina Garcia Cano on Twitter at: https://www.twitter.com/reginagarciakNO


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