By Laine Crosby
Is it possible for incarcerated nonviolent offenders to turn their lives around as a result of financial literacy training provided by a bank?
The answer appears to be yes, based on the results of a program called 12 Steps to Financial Success, which was developed by Old National Bank, Evansville, Ind., for the Henderson County, Ky., Detention Center.
The program was initiated in 2013 by the bank’s visionary CEO, Bob Jones, who believed strongly in the power of financial education to improve lives. Bank executive Ben Joergens was named to create and manage the program.
The program empowers at-risk adults, specifically those incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, to take control of their future and achieve financial success. This 12-week program encompasses a variety of important personal financial topics and teaches participants the 12 steps they can take to change their lives for the better and achieve financial success. The goal is not only to empower the participants with financial knowledge, but also to encourage them to empower others after leaving the detention center.
At the Henderson County Detention Center, a total of 50 inmates participate at a time in the program’s 12-week course, which is held for one to two hours a week. At the end of the 12- week session, a new group rotates in to participate in the program.
Topics covered include:
- The nuts and bolts of banking.
- Budgeting basics.
- Identity theft protection.
- Slashing expenses.
- Building a budgeting strategy.
- Using credit with care.
- Finding ways to save.
- Checking, debit and credit cards.
- Understanding and improving credit scores.
- Buying a home and investing.
Participants of the 12 Steps to Financial Success Program are presented with realistic scenarios pertaining to budgeting, decreasing expenses and other financial situations. The participants are able to set short- and long-term goals for themselves that can be reached both during their time in the detention center and after they are released. And, Individuals who complete the program can receive monetary assistance to pay back debts incurred prior to incarceration. The program concludes with a fun game that allows participants to collaborate as a team and test their knowledge of the topics covered.
Meiko Berlack completed the program in September 2014, a month before finishing her sentence at the Henderson County Detention Facility. A native of Princeton, Ky, Meiko spent the better part of a decade behind bars for drug-related offenses. She says that the 12 Steps to Financial Success program completely altered her life’s trajectory. Now clean and sober, she has just been named the manager of a popular hair salon in her hometown. Recently she opened a certificate of deposit and took out a signature loan at a local bank, two things she never imagined being able to do.
“I learned the importance of saving and budgeting from Mr. Joergens,” she said. “And I also learned that you can always clean up the wreckage of your past and take control of your destiny.”
“We believe in rehabilitating the whole person, and financial education is an important component of that,” said Roslyn Jackson, substance abuse counselor at the Henderson County Detention Center. “This program helps these women learn about money management in a comfortable and safe environment. Learning and understanding the basics brings them hope and empowers them to break the cycle. Old National is helping us help them.”
Building on the success of this alliance with the Henderson County Detention Center, Joergens and Old National Bank have also partnered with HOPE Hall Rehabilitation Center of Evansville, Ind. Those who complete these programs ultimately return to their communities with far greater self-esteem and financial confidence, making them more likely to open a bank account, save for college, create an emergency fund and purchase a home. And by personally leading the weekly classes for the program, Joergens has the opportunity to get to know the students on a personal level, and truly engages in their growth and progress.
Old National recognizes how crucial financial education is for the communities in its footprint and has made financial literacy a core focus, having seen firsthand the significant social and economic benefits from its involvement in the community. Based on this success, Joergens has been approached about tailoring similar programs for incarcerated individuals throughout the state of Indiana.
The American Bankers Association awarded Old National Bank the 2015 ABA Community Commitment Award in the category of “financial education” for its 12 Steps to Financial Success Program. Also, Ben Joergens was given ABA’s George Bailey Distinguished Service Award for his efforts in the 12-step program.
Laine Crosby is the editor of ABA Bank Compliance magazine.