INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - In Indianapolis, nearly 6,000 offenders released from prison each year return to communities unprepared. A new program in Marion County called Starting Over is reaching out to those men and women, helping mentor them as they find jobs and start a better life.
Starting Over is run by a group of more than a dozen individuals who have successfully transitioned out of prison. Their time spent in prison ranges from a few days to as many as 39 years.
“We want to help others coming out [of prison] to show them they can do it as well,” says Bonnie Zito,
Zito’s story is similar to that of the people she helps. In 2011, she was admitted into Madison Correctional Facility to serve one year for an embezzlement conviction. She was released from all obligations to the judicial system in October 2012.
“I’m a Certified Public Accountant with my Masters in Business,” says Zito. “But I had a very difficult time finding anyone who would give me a chance.”
Zito now works with Starting Over to alleviate the struggles of other ex-offenders.
Starting Over is funded by a three year grant from AmeriCorps – a government funded program that donates money to organizations addressing a critical need within a community.
In Indianapolis, the critical problem is recidivism – when an ex-offender relapses into criminal behavior and lands back in jail. 58 percent of prisoners released to Indianapolis are re-arrested within one year. About 50 percent will be returned to prison within three years.
For those attempting to transition back into regular life, the conviction on their record makes the process very difficult.
"I have a college degree; I graduated from high school,” says 31-year-old Rachel Harding. “It [a conviction] is a brick wall that you keep running into, because you can have all of the qualifications and all of the drive and that one thing can be enough to disqualify you."
Harding began casually selling marijuana six years ago as a way to support her income. It became her main source of income two years ago, but she was caught last year in February 2012 and now has a felony on her record.
Harding now works at the Subway restaurant inside the Food Court at Circle Center Mall, notably, owned by the same man who gave Zito her first chance in the Fall of 2012.
"You have to get out there and you have to beat that pavement and just hope someone can meet you and give you that chance. And that's where Starting Over tries to intervene and build those relationships for them so they can ease on in and prove themselves,” says Zito.
Greenfield police officers are spending their Sunday giving 41 deserving children a day out on the town for the holidays.
A winter weather advisory was issued for Wayne, Union, Switzerland, Ripley, Ohio, Franklin, Fayette and Dearborn counties on Saturday night.
IMPD officials say a 3-year-old boy has died after he was shot in the head Saturday evening.