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ROCKVILLE, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Nearly four dozen women who are incarcerated at the Rockville Correctional Facility in Parke County are now working in a call center to help inmates in other prisons and jails to communicate with their family members.

The women were hired by Arizona-based technology company Televerde to staff the phone lines in a contact center which is operated at the prison.

A third party, Securus Technologies, has contracted with Televerde to staff and manage inbound customer service calls. Securus is a subsidiary of Texas-based Aventiv Technologies, a diversified technology company specializing in communications services for the corrections and government services sectors.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Aventiv Technologies President and Chief Executive Officer Dave Abel said his company is committed to helping people who are currently imprisoned.

“What this really, really boils down to is that as a nation, we need to reduce the recidivism rate, the rate with which people return to facilities,” said Abel.

Securus provides phone service, email and video chat capabilities for inmates and their families. He said as the pandemic swept the nation, correctional facilities stopped in-person visits.

”It is the only method of communication, outside of visitation which has been necessarily restricted by facilities during COVID,” said Abel. “It is a lifeline of connectivity between them and their loved one.”

The Rockville inmates answer calls from people who are both inside and outside institutions and may be struggling with the Securus technology. It could be family members struggling with something as simple as adding money to a telephone account or having problems accessing the website. Or it could be an inmate whose tablet is malfunctioning.

“We’re more empathetic to their needs. Because we understand them especially from both standpoints,” said ShaShanna Brent, a two-year Televerde veteran and an inmate at Rockville. “Some of the prisons have shut down and they won’t let you have face to face visits. And so, all you have is maybe emails, phone calls, and things like that.”

Brent has been incarcerated since 2017. Brent joined the program after she noticed a change in other inmates who were part of the Televerde staff.

“They’re recognized for how they carry themselves and their mindset. They think differently. They act differently. And I was like, ‘I want to be part of that,’” said Brent.

She says the need for the technology has been heightened because of COVID-related restrictions.

“As far as the inmates go, they may have their tablets or their media. And if they have problems with that, then they’re probably going to get depressed because this is all they have to keep their mind focused,” explained Brent. “And so, I’m wanting to make sure that I help them out with their issues.”

Securus says the workers hired by Televerde are paid the federal minimum wage, undergo job training, learn professional skills and are on track to be offered a job with the company after they are released.

“What studies have shown is that there are two significant contributing elements to reducing recidivism. One is the degree to which an individual is connected with friends and family and a support network. The more communication an individual has, the more likely that person is not to return to a facility,” said Abel. “The second element that reduces recidivism is the ability for an individual to have job skills upon release.”

Abel says his company has been accused of abusing the system by using incarcerated workers. He says since January Aventiv has transformed its business model to make it more accountable and affordable.

By partnering with Televerde, Abel says it shows the company’s commitment to invest in re-entry services.

“A full wage, job skill training, post-incarceration opportunities, and measurable results that demonstrate a decrease in recidivism,” said Abel.

Brent says the Televerde job has put her on the right track for success both inside and outside of prison.

“I know how to gauge situations before going into them. And I stay surrounded with positive, influential people,” said Brent, who says she may pursue a business degree once she is released.

Abel says the national three-year average recidivism rate is 68%, but he says the return rate for Televerde-trained women is about 5%. Brent is committed to not repeat the mistakes that got her to Rockville.

“I’m more confident that I will be successful in my endeavors. Because they helped me here, but I know that they’re still going to be there for me, upon my release, because they help with mentorship,” said Brent.

Televerde also opened a call center at the Madison Correctional Facility in December 2019.

Aventiv Technologies CEO Davd Abel explained how its business model is helping inmates from returning to prison.

ROCKVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — The 2020 Parke County Covered Bridge Festival is canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.

The county commissioners decided Monday evening to cancel the festival set to start Oct. 9.

In a Facebook post, the county said, “We know many look forward to our 10 day fall festival, but we still encourage you to come enjoy Parke County’s beautiful fall foliage and covered bridges. Take a slow paced day or two to enjoy our state parks, unique restaurants, and visit our year-round small businesses for shopping, antiques and more.”

The event is billed as Indiana’s largest fall festival. The event includes food, craft and other vendors on the lawn of the courthouse, plus similar events — including the hog roast in Montezuma and the buried beef delicacy at Tangier — at or near some of the counties’ 31 covered bridges.

MADISON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — An Arizona company that operates customer engagement centers at two Indiana women’s prisons has launched a program to help prepare their incarcerated workers for employment after they are released.

The sales and marketing firm Televerde created a nonprofit foundation to provide the imprisoned employees with workforce development programs and to create career pathways.

Televerde Foundation says it also wants to reduce the rates of women who are sent back to prison.

“Women who are formerly incarcerated have a 25% to 45% higher unemployment rate. The number one predictor for recidivism is joblessness,” said Michelle Cirocco, executive director of the foundation.

The Rockville Correctional Facility telemarketing center opened in March 2015. Last December, the company opened its second call center in the state at the Madison Correctional Facility for women.

Televerde says those centers provide business, project management, and customer service skills through on-the-job training. But the new re-entry program will provide personal and professional development tools to help soon-to-be-released workers prepare for a job search, such as community reintegration, workplace readiness, resume writing, and interviewing skills.

“We just really want to make sure that in addition to skills they learned while they were working for us, we also provide the additional education resources, training support necessary to be able to join the global workforce,” said Cirocco. “That means they can walk into any company, sit down in a cubicle next to anybody, and be prepared to be successful in that particular job.”

Cirocco says the six-month-long program is intended for women who are in the final year of their sentence. The initiative started in April at the Arizona prisons where Televerde operates customer centers.

The Indiana program will start in September. She said the classes will likely be taught virtually for both Indiana institutions. Cirocco says the students in the cohort will be released shortly thereafter.

With the COVID-inflicted unemployment rate hovering near 14% nationally and nearly 17% in Indiana, Cirocco says those numbers will not help these women already facing the stigma of a criminal record.

“In the best of times, being released from prison presents challenges associated with housing, transportation and employment,” explained Cirocco. “When you think of the current situation, we have to prepare them to be able to successfully transition or they really just don’t have a chance.”

Televerde says it does not have enough capacity to hire every woman who works for them in the prisons after they released. That is another reason why the company says it will continue to provide services to its graduates after they are released, providing ongoing career development services that could lead to career advancement.

“By adding the additional education and training and development after they’re released, they can pursue real careers, which will not only keep them out of prison, but it will enable them to provide more for their families and more for their children so that their children can go to college and have careers themselves.”

Televerde Foundation Executive Director Michelle Cirocco tells Inside INdiana Business the women are getting a second chance in life.

ROCKVILLE, Ind. (AP and WISH) — A west central Indiana man has been sentenced to 90 years in prison after being convicted of setting fires that destroyed one covered bridge and damaged another.

Jesse Payne of Rockville was sentenced Monday, a month after a Parke County jury found him guilty but mentally ill on three counts of arson. He also was found guilty of being a habitual offender.

Authorities say the 48-year-old set fires that burned down the Jeffries Ford Bridge in 2002 and damaged the Bridgeton Covered Bridge in 2005. He also tried to set fire to the Mansfield Covered Bridge in 2005.

 Payne was found incompetent to stand trial after he was arrested following the Bridgeton Covered Bridge fire.

He was found competent to stand trial last year after receiving several years of treatment at the Logansport State Hospital.

ROCKVILLE, Ind. (WISH) – A 42-year-old Hillsdale man was put on probation after pleading guilty to charges stemming from an off-road vehicle crash that killed a woman.

Andrew N. Crouch was arrested about a week after the early morning July 9 crash on Marshall Road, Indiana conservation officers said.

Tammie Russell was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash. An autopsy determined she died of blunt force trauma to the chest, conservation officers said. They did not provide Russell’s age or other details about the crash.

Crouch was transported to a hospital and treated for his injuries.

Crouch pleaded guilty to a charge of drunken driving and driving while suspended. Parke Circuit Court sentenced Crouch to a year in jail, with credit for 60 days serving the county jail and 245 days suspended. The balance of the sentence, 60 days, was to be spent on probation, according to online court records.

ROCKVILLE, Ind. (AP) – A judge has entered a not guilty plea for a man facing drunken driving charges for a crash that killed a former Indiana county sheriff and his wife.

Bryan Robertson, 41, of Rockville told a Parke County judge on Wednesday he would hire his own attorney. He faces driving while intoxicated causing death charges for the Dec. 21 crash that killed 74-year-old Michael Eslinger and 73-year-old Darla Eslinger.

Mike Eslinger served four terms as Parke County sheriff and was a past executive director of the Indiana Sheriffs Association. Darla Eslinger had retired as the county’s emergency management director.

Police say Robertson’s blood-alcohol content was 0.117 percent. Indiana’s legal limit to drive is 0.08 percent. Robertson was moved Saturday from a hospital to the Parke County Jail.

ROCKVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — A 41-year-old man was arrested on charges stemming from an off-road vehicle crash that killed a woman earlier this month.

Indiana Conservation Officers arrested Andrew Crouch of Rockville without incident Tuesday. Authorities said the crash occurred early in the morning of July 9 on Marshall Road.

Tammie Russell was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash. An autopsy determined she died of blunt force trauma to the chest. Crouch was transported to the hospital and treated for his injuries.

Crouch faces a felony charge of Causing Death when Operating a Vehicle while intoxicated as well as a misdemeanor charge of Driving while Suspended with Prior Convictions.

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ROCKVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — Conservation officers used sonar Friday to locate the body of a 74-year-old man who had been swimming in Raccoon Lake.

About 4:30 p.m., Ronnie M. Gore, of Covington, jumped from a boat to swim and appeared to be struggling briefly before disappearing underwater, Indiana conservation officers said in a news release.

A conservation officer dive team found Gore’s body about 6:45 p.m.

Officers are investigating, although no foul play is suspected, the release said.

An autopsy was set for 1 p.m. Saturday at at Terre Haute Regional Hospital.

Raccoon Lake is about 30 miles west of Indianapolis. A state recreation area surrounds much of the lake.

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ROCKVILLE, Ind. (WTHI) – A Rockville Elementary School substitute teacher is behind bars after he is accused of battery on students.

The incident happened on Wednesday.

In an interview with police, Louis Gudino Jr. told officers he wrapped his hands around a student’s neck and threatened to choke him.

According to to police he also threatened to poke the same student in the eye with a pen, coming within three inches of his face.

He says this was an effort to get the student to be quiet.

After that, Gudino Jr. had another student come to the front of the classroom, kneel down and he placed a key chain cord around the child’s neck.

He also placed a key chain cord around another student’s neck while sitting at their desk.

According to students, he told some students he would kill them.

Gudino Jr. denies saying that but did admit to telling students that he was in a gang.

After a female student asked if he was going to kill her replied: with something along the lines of “yes, you better watch your back.”

According to police he told kids if they wanted to fight, they could meet him in the parking lot.

He admitted to officers he had done this in the past while subbing at other schools, including Southwestern Parke, North Central Parke, and South Vermillion Schools.

Gudino Jr. was arrested and charged with battery and intimidation.

He is scheduled to appear in court on Monday.

ROCKVILLE, Ind. (WTHI) – As of 4 a.m. Tuesday, the Parke County Sheriff’s Department confirms that firefighters have put out a large fire in Parke County near Rockville.

It happened at around 10:45 p.m. Monday.

Several fire departments were called to the blaze at Mecca Auto Salvage. That’s located at 4491 W. Mecca Rd.

Dangerously cold weather made fighting the fire even more difficult. Crews had to deal with frozen fire hydrants.

Neighbors reported hearing explosions during the early minutes of the fire.

Responders from the American Red Cross were on the scene providing first responders with hot coffee, water and snacks.

The Parke County Sheriff’s Department confirms to WTHI that there were no injuries.

A cause has not been determined.