Originally published Feb. 27, 2014.
A year ago, Talon Lynch might have been found getting himself into all kinds of mischief. Some of his activities landed him in jail.
Today, his old friends would probably not recognize him and the new focus that's driving him toward a better path and a new life.
"I'm probably going to enroll in Ivy Tech as a student," he says. "From there, I want to go to college - maybe I.U. because they have a really good medical program. I want to be a physical therapist."
Lynch, 19, of Huntington, is an enthusiastic participant in Huntington County's Community Corrections program, which officially celebrates its second anniversary today, Thursday, Feb. 27. The fledgling department began taking its first participants last October, and has already seen some success stories.
Lynch is not quite finished with his court-ordered participation in Community Corrections, but he had high praises for what the program has already done for him.
"It's changed my whole outlook on life and what my priorities need to be, and what steps I need to take in order to reach those priorities and goals in life," he says. "They have helped me out so much. Honestly, they have showed me what I need to do and it just put a new mindset on life."
If he had not gone into Community Corrections, Lynch says he would likely still do the same things that caused him to be incarcerated, without looking forward or realizing his full potential as a quality member of society. Now, he says he wants to devote his life to helping others achieve a better quality of life.
Twenty people have gone through the Community Corrections "day reporting" program so far, Executive Director Leslie Rentschler says. Of that number, 11 are currently going through the program in compliance, five are currently incarcerated and will report to the program upon their release and three participants have successfully completed the program. Only one of the 20 did not succeed.
The participants are referred through a judge's order in either circuit or superior court. After going through an initial risk assessment, they must check in daily with the Community Corrections office and work through a variety of tasks, including drug treatment, financial management and job skills classes, paying fines and court costs, volunteering and counseling.
"We set up a case plan with them," Rentschler explains. "The higher the risk is the higher the risk that they may reoffend, so those areas that they score high in are ones we address first and the hardest."
A new component of Community Corrections is the Community Transition Program, in which the participant earns an early release from electronic monitoring. The Community Corrections department works with the Department of Workforce Development/HIRE program and WorkOne to expand a participant's job readiness and place him or her in part-time employment. The CTP's first participant recently accepted a full-time position with a new company and maintains full compliance with the transition program.
"The main goal is to stop the recidivism," Rentschler says. "In order to do that we have to assess and look at where they're at in their lives - what caused them to commit the crimes in the beginning and address the issues. It could be anything - from them having a disability, to education level, to being able to find a job. It varies from person to person."
The department, located in the Huntington County Courthouse, receives most of its funding through a Department of Corrections grant. A variety of types of offenders may be eligible to attend the program, with the exception of violent and sex offenders.
Future plans for the program include adding home supervision, partnering with local businesses and mentoring. Long-term plans may see the development of a residential work-release program.
Rentschler comes to the Huntington County Community Corrections program after working with Whitley County's Community Corrections program, developing the education and employment program of that county's work release center. Her background is in corrections as well as welfare.
In addition to Rentschler, Sarah Fairchild serves as support staff, providing assessments, case management and updating the Probation Department on each participant's status.
"We start out one-on-one, so you're developing relational skills with them," she says. "For example, if you have someone who has a strong desire and ambition and change in their life - to choose a different path - they don't want to keep in the court cycle, but their actions or their peers that they've chosen to associate with are obstacles to that, then you help them work through that. It taps into their creativity, compassion and working with them so they can accept for themselves, ‘If I want this path for my life I have to make a change here.'"