AIMing for Justice

by Naomi Ritter

In 1994, after one month as president of Indiana University, Myles Brand noted our state's alarming legislative trend to increase funding for prisons while decreasing support for higher education. This is a national pattern: most states now spend more on building prisons and less on funding universities. George Orwell might have invented this situation, for it expresses Orwellian inverted priorities. Stephen Gottfredson, a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA), has addressed this ominous trend in an article entitled "Fighting Crime at the Expense of Colleges," which appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 20, 1995). In this article, Gottfredson showed that public colleges and universities are funding their budgets less from state revenues and more from tuition, and highlighted a remarkable imbalance in the nation's expectations of education and imprisonment. Gottfredson argued persuasively that while both major political parties support expanded funding for prisons, they simultaneously demand ever-greater accountability from higher education--just to maintain the current level of financial support.

What most legislators mean by accountability is demonstrating tangible successes of the public academic mission: often, this means satisfying students and parents, which in turn focuses on the financial viability of graduates. Quite apart from the debatable assumptions of such a demand, we might note that our politicians seem to expect nothing comparable of the corrections system. If the measure of prisons' success is rehabilitated criminals, we may reasonably expect evidence of low recidivism. Yet the media usually report just the opposite outcome: in some states the rate of return to prison reaches eighty percent. Clearly the public should demand of the corrections system the same accountability it expects from education.

Some members of the criminal justice, law, and public safety faculty group. From left to right, Stephen Gottfredson, Joseph Pellicciotti, Kenna Davis Quinet, Crystal Garcia, Roger Jarjoura, Allen Anderson, and Kenneth Mentor

But the public wisdom--and the apparent belief of many concerned with issues of correctional policy and practice--is that "nothing works" to change the behavior of criminal offenders. "This perception stems from much-publicized reviews of rehabilitative efforts and programs popular before the correctional policy pendulum swung so decisively toward simple incapacitation through incarceration," Gottfredson says. "Imprisonment is virtually all that corrections now provides. But we need to see this trend for what it is: our society's most expensive means of providing social services, without also providing clear benefits in terms of public safety."

A new project initiated by G. Roger Jarjoura, an assistant professor of public and environmental affairs at IUPUI, may aid the correctional system's accountability to society. Called Aftercare by IUPUI through Mentoring (AIM), Jarjoura's program matches undergraduate majors in criminal justice with young men on the verge of release from the Plainfield Juvenile Correctional Facility. The student mentors first receive training for their complex task of mentoring former juvenile offenders through Jarjoura's service learning course, Mentoring Juveniles as a Form of Aftercare. Accompanying another service learning course (Juvenile Justice II) already conducted at Plainfield, the team of ten enthusiastic mentors offers an ideal mixture of services: teaching the life skills of problem solving and budgeting money; helping parolees interact positively with parole officers, teachers, employers, family, and friends; assisting parolees in seeking, applying, and interviewing for suitable jobs; and counseling youths in their efforts to become useful members of a community.

Unquestionably AIM fills a need, for Plainfield--like other state correctional facilities--cannot afford such crucial help for its released young men. Although the system's regular Youth Service Coordinators supervise what they can of the prisoners' last month of transition from Plainfield to the Indianapolis area, huge caseloads prevent them from offering any true mentoring. The handful of AIM mentors can do so for only a few in the steady stream of new parolees.

Judy Helms, Community Services Director at the Plainfield Juvenile Correctional Center, notes that their young men bond more quickly and better with students close to their own ages than with adult professionals in the Department of Corrections. A further benefit of the mentors' help lies in their demonstration of service work. The juveniles often follow their mentors' example by participating in various community projects, such as cleaning up public areas in Plainfield, building playground equipment, or making birdhouses for a nursing home. Not only do the young men gain a sense of giving to others, the community also comes to think positively of the Plainfield inmates.

AIM is an excellent way for the university to interact beneficially with its community. "I believe that we in the university have a responsibility to the larger community," Jarjoura says. "Because of the nature of my work and my approach to research, I know more about the most effective juvenile aftercare than anyone in corrections is likely to know. I can marshal this expertise and the resources of the university, including students, to make a difference in providing aftercare services." Jarjoura's statement distills the synergistic integration of the ideal academic career: a combined mission of teaching, research, and service.

The AIM program was designed as an evaluation research study. Based on the month in which he is released from the facility, each youth from the Indianapolis area is placed in one of three groups. Youths in one group receive up to eight weeks of prerelease services from AIM and are assigned a mentor. Youths in the second group also receive up to eight weeks of prerelease services, but are not assigned a mentor. Youths in the third group receive no services from the AIM program. The three groups are then followed for one year after their release to check for reoffending behavior. This will allow Jarjoura and his research team, which includes new faculty member Crystal Garcia, a research associate at IUPUI, to assess the effectiveness of the mentoring program.

The mentor pool is well-integrated, drawing on students of both genders, different races, and ages ranging from 20 to 30. They spend up to eight hours a week with their charges, responding to whatever needs they hear expressed or can intuit. Mentors consult regularly with the Plainfield staff, Jarjoura, and each other. Talking with these mentors reveals that service learning aids the students directly, while they help others. By giving their young charges an optimal second chance, the students feel validated in their chosen profession. Ronna Holmes, a senior majoring in criminal justice, says, "I have found my niche." She also notes that she is learning things unavailable in the classroom or in textbooks.

Another experienced mentor, Kim Mechem, says, "I can't imagine leaving school without the knowledge I have gained from Juvenile Justice II and the AIM program. These hands-on experiences have taught me more, and opened my eyes to more issues, than any traditional course work." William Cannon, another mentor, asserts, "If you're a criminal justice major, you should be required to take this course. You need to see the actual workings of what you read about. This program allows students to gain a far greater understanding of the criminal justice system than they could ever get from a book."

Holmes' mentoring has resulted in numerous personally gratifying experiences. She derives great satisfaction from knowing that her work builds a significant relationship with someone who has had few such positive contacts with others. As a mother herself, Holmes looks on mentoring as vicarious parenting, a skill that the young men can thereby learn through this relationship. She describes what she does as "buddying around with the juveniles, helping them find jobs, whatever they need to make it easier for them to get through this stage and not return to prison."

The Plainfield administrators cannot find enough words of praise for AIM, Jarjoura, and his team of mentors. Helms, who collaborated with Jarjoura in developing the program, says, "There has never been this kind of relationship with an institution of higher education, one in which students build a relationship with juvenile offenders while they are incarcerated, and much more important, continue it after they've been released." Helms stresses the role-modeling that AIM facilitates: "Being involved with IUPUI students has encouraged our juveniles to complete their own high school education. A lot of them are interested in going on to higher education, too."

The rapport that develops quickly between mentors and juveniles particularly impresses Paul Pyatt, assistant supervisor at the Plainfield Juvenile Correctional Facility. He characterizes most inmates as fifteen-year-old survivors of about ten years of experience in a totally dysfunctional social environment. Their chances of reentering that culture without succumbing to its pressures are slim, but mentoring significantly increases their odds of doing so.

The first step that mentors take with their charges begins about a month before release. The mentor and the young man work together to create a viable reentry plan. This first focussing of energy on setting goals has a self-empowering effect for the youth. The first few weeks after release are the most critical, for this is the time when sudden freedom often leads young offenders to resume criminal activity and soon return to prison. If the newly released juvenile has his own plan clearly in mind, however, he has a clear incentive to fulfill it. A positive outcome is especially likely if an admired role model/peer mentor has affirmed the value of the plan's priorities. Once the newly released individual feels some success in accomplishing the primary goals, he is well on the way to mastering the longer-term aspects of successful reentry into society. Whether the plan calls for gaining and holding a job, acquiring more education, or simply living independently, the mentor's guidance through each step of the plan is essential. The mentors continue working closely with their charges for an average of six months, but many stay in contact longer. Clearly, the relationship creates an extraordinary bond, which is just what the new parolees need to establish their independence.

Surprisingly, this admirable program has no funding. The program is currently being run by Jarjoura and Nikki Kincaid, a graduate student in criminal justice who receives course credit for this important job. Jarjoura's first funding priority is to employ a full-time coordinator. He also hopes to export AIM to other SPEA departments in Fort Wayne, South Bend, and Gary, for many of the youths leaving Plainfield return to those locations. Creating community partnerships between the AIM program and local agencies and organizations is another needed development. But none of this activity can occur without financial support, which Jarjoura is actively seeking from local and state sources and private corporations. Unfortunately, the Department of Corrections, one direct beneficiary of such work, can offer no funding. Jarjoura may attract the attention of social service granting agencies, however, by publicizing AIM throughout the state. To this end, he is planning a conference to build a coalition of Indiana aftercare providers. Once such links exist, Jarjoura hopes to test, evaluate, and improve the provisions of AIM in other areas.

Considering the dysfunctional backgrounds of most juvenile offenders, they surely deserve a second chance. The professional staff of corrections facilities is already stretched thin in its efforts to rehabilitate such youths. Whether they get that needed second chance may depend on just such programs as Jarjoura has built with his team of dedicated student mentors.