People who have been formerly incarcerated face many barriers to finding housing and earning a living wage, and often struggle to support themselves and their families. Beginning in January, a program at Ivy Tech Community College aims to improve the quality of life for justice-involved youth and adults.
The year-long program will assist juvenile or adult residents of Marion, Hendricks and Boone counties who have had a felony conviction or other interactions with the criminal justice system by providing them with academic support, wraparound services and more employment opportunities. The initiative is called the “ELEVATE: Change Starts Here.”
A program goal is to reduce the rate of recidivism. In 2020, over 38 percent of incarcerated Hoosiers returned to jail. A recent WFYI investigation found that Indiana Indiana detains and commits youth at a rate that’s about 40 percent above the national average. Michael Martin Drain, program director, said some people released from a jail or a correctional facility may not have a high school diploma or a high school equivalency — an alternative certification to earning a diploma.
“Education is a pathway forward,” Drain said. “We can give someone a job all day long, but if there's no passion and purpose behind that job, then guess what – we're going to have people that are disconnected from our workforce.”
The Ivy Tech initiative will provide educational tools and mentorship to 100 students – four cohorts of 25 people – within a two year period.
Participants will take an assessment to find career fields they’re passionate about as they complete non-credit and credit programming. Participants can pursue career pathways such as welding or apartment maintenance to learn HVAC, plumbing and electrical training skills. But Drain would like to see more students with this background pursue a career in social work or information technology.
A $250,000 grant from the Indianapolis African American Quality of Life Initiative established the program. The college will work in partnership with Indianapolis social services organizations Shepherd Community Center and Public Advocates in Community Re-entry, and American Prison Data Systems, a career readiness organization that works with 19 states.
The college’s emergency aid assistance team will also support participants to meet additional needs, such as housing, transportation, food or clothing. They will also work to provide them with health care services, including mental health assessments and drug and alcohol counseling.
‘Where could he work?’
Drain, the program director, previously worked with the state’s Hoosier Initiative for Re-Entry program for seven years. He became involved with this work after Drain helped his brother who was incarcerated for five years.
“Upon his release, there was a huge wake-up call concerning employment for him,” Drain said. “Where could he work? His driver's license was indefinitely suspended when he got out, so then how would he get to work?”
Drain was able to find his brother a position at a supermarket where he could bike to and from work until he was able to get back on his feet. Now Drain wants to support others navigating similar situations and create a community for people to support future cohorts.
“I would love for individuals that have went through the process to be able to come back, teach, talk — not only help our students that are undergoing enrollment, but to also help the campus and university,” Drain said. “To help individuals that are either faculty [or] staff to understand, ‘Hey, these are the barriers that I went through. These are things that could possibly help with new students.”
Community members interested in the program can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Indianapolis African American Quality of Life Initiative was created by the Indianapolis Urban League, the African American Coalition of Indianapolis and other organizations. The initiative is funded through a $100 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to provide Black Hoosiers with resources to improve their quality of life in Indianapolis and Marion County.