New data shows success of reading program for incarcerated teens

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SOUTH BEND A program in South Bend is helping teens turn their lives around, one page at a time. Reading for Life has been in the area since 2007 as a diversion program, allowing youth to expunge non-violent, first-time crimes after completing the 10-week program.

Due to it's success, in 2012, the program grew to include teenage boys detained at the Juvenile Justice Center (JJC). Officials say they now know recidivism, or the rate at which youth re-offend, is 14%.

"That is in comparison to the state of Indiana, which is at about 30%. So, we are seriously impacting these young men's lives," said Executive Director, Laura Baker.

Teens in the JJC have the option to participate twice a week for ten weeks. They read fiction, then discuss the themes in small groups with volunteer mentors from the community.

"It's a very, very powerful tool," said Baker. "This is a low point in their life, so we come in and we teach them things like what does it mean to be a good person?"

On Thursday, students were treated to a guest speaker, published author Amy Parker. The group read Parker's novel "Gated," then discussed the deeper message of cults as a group.

"My main character really sort of had to figure out who she was and question people around her who were telling her the wrong things and figure out how to do the right things," said Parker. "So, I hope they took away from it that sometimes the people around you aren't necessarily caring for you when they tell you things to do. They're manipulating you."

It's a concept the group discussed figuratively, but one Parker says applies very literally to this particular group's lives.

"There's this vulnerability there. They're tough but there's vulnerability there," said Parker.

Right now, only incarcerated males can take part in the detention program. Reading for Life officials hope to expand to the female population over time. To learn more about Reading for Life, click here.

To find Parker's novel, "Gated," click here.