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.
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.