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

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 then-Gov. Mike Pence and Karen Pence at Crosswinds’ annual fundraising event Jazzin’ Up January.Credit: Lifelineyouth.org

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 swalter@revealnews.org. Follow her on Twitter: @shoeshine.

Shoshana Walter

Shoshana Walter is a reporter for Reveal, covering criminal justice. She and reporter Amy Julia Harris exposed how courts across the country are sending defendants to rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry. Their work was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting. It also won the Knight Award for Public Service, a Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting, and an Edward R. Murrow Award, and was a finalist for the Selden Ring, IRE and Livingston Awards. It led to numerous government investigations, two criminal probes and five federal class-action lawsuits alleging slavery, labor violations and fraud.

Walter's investigation on America's armed security guard industry revealed how armed guard licenses have been handed out to people with histories of violence, even people barred by courts from owning guns. Walter and reporter Ryan Gabrielson won the 2015 Livingston Award for Young Journalists for national reporting based on the series, which prompted new laws and an overhaul of California’s regulatory system. For her 2016 investigation about the plight of "trimmigrants," marijuana workers in California's Emerald Triangle, Walter embedded herself in illegal mountain grows and farms. There, she encountered an epidemic of sex abuse and human trafficking in the industry – and a criminal justice system focused more on the illegal drugs. The story prompted legislation, a criminal investigation and grass-roots efforts by the community, including the founding of a worker hotline and safe house.

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. Her narrative nonfiction as a local reporter garnered a national Sigma Delta Chi Award and a Gold Medal for Public Service from the Florida Society of News Editors. 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 based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.