Mark and Colleen Terrell pose with Governor Mike Pence and First Lady Karen Pence at Crosswinds' annual fundraising event Jazzin' Up January. Credit:

Kids detained at Pierceton Woods Academy in Indiana received meals, beds and Bibles. What they didn’t receive? An education.

Between 2013 and 2015, the juvenile detention wing of the Christian residential treatment program, owned by a nonprofit with ties to Vice President Mike Pence, failed to provide educational programs to children, according to Indiana Department of Corrections audits reviewed by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

Indiana law requires juvenile detention facilities provide kids with an education. But during one visit by state auditors, several youths said they were not receiving educational services. On another visit, auditors noted, a staffing shortage was to blame. Mark Terrell, chief executive officer of parent organization Lifeline Youth and Family Services, did not respond to requests for comment.

Despite the lack of schooling, state auditors continually found Pierceton Woods in “full compliance” with mandatory standards for juvenile facilities. The Department of Correction does not enforce the law, and there appears to be no punishment for facilities that don’t provide educational services. Chief counsel Bob Bugher said Pierceton Woods “initiated access” to online courses before shutting down its detention center last year.

Though they no longer have a locked facility, Pierceton Woods Academy still accepts court-ordered and paroled kids from around the state as part of its residential treatment program. The 52-acre facility caters to boys between 10 and 21, offers chapel services and baptisms, and has been plagued by complaints of escapes and violence. After one teenage escapee shot a reserve deputy in the chest, local officials demanded an investigation by the state. Last year, a teen sentenced to four months at the facility escaped by fleeing into the woods. The facility remains licensed.

It’s the kind of faith-based programming once championed by then-Gov. Pence in his home state, where he helped expand faith-based services into the criminal justice system.

Mark and Colleen Terrell pose with Governor Mike Pence and First Lady Karen Pence at Crosswinds' annual fundraising event Jazzin' Up January.
Mark and Colleen Terrell pose with then-Gov. Mike Pence and Karen Pence at Crosswinds’ annual fundraising event Jazzin’ Up January.Credit:

Last year, Pence and his wife, Karen, were featured speakers at the nonprofit’s annual fundraiser. Brenda Vincent, Lifeline’s vice president of development, was chief of staff to Indiana’s first lady and deputy finance director of Pence’s gubernatorial campaign. Mark Terrell, Lifeline’s chief executive officer, was appointed by Pence to a judicial nominating commission.

In addition to the academy, Lifeline runs other faith-based programs across Oklahoma for troubled youth and families, as well as mission trips in the Dominican Republic.

Shoshana Walter can be reached at Follow her on Twitter: @shoeshine.

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Shoshana Walter was a senior reporter and producer at Reveal, covering the criminal justice and child welfare systems. She's working on a book for Simon & Schuster about the failures of our country's addiction treatment system. At Reveal, she reported on exploitative drug rehab programs that require participants to work without pay, armed security guards, and sex abuse and trafficking in the marijuana industry. Her reporting has prompted new laws, numerous class-action lawsuits and government investigations. Her stories have been named finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, Selden Ring and National Magazine Awards. She has also been honored with the Livingston Award for National Reporting, the IRE medal, the Edward R. Murrow award, the Knight Award for Public Service, a Loeb Award and Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting. Her Reveal podcast, "American Rehab," was named one of the best podcasts of the year by The New Yorker and The Atlantic and prompted a congressional investigation.

Walter began her career as a police reporter for The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida, and previously covered violent crime and the politics of policing in Oakland, California, for The Bay Citizen. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, she has been a Dart Center Ochberg fellow for journalism and trauma at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim fellow in criminal justice journalism. She is a fellow with the Watchdog Writers Group at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and is based in Oakland, California.