Boys Behind Bars–The Pine Grove Experience, by Ed Spencer

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What happens to a teen convicted of a violent crime in Pennsylvania?
Once a boy, ages 12 through 18 is convicted and sentenced to a violent crime, he will be transferred from the county prison to the state penitentiary at SCI Camp Hill near Harrisburg. That experience for boys that have had no previous problems with the law will be a total shock to them. It is a mean and lonely place to be.

Here is where the reality of their consequences truly sets in. He will have no contact with family or friends for several weeks. The guards and staff are hard core. This experience will be an attitude changer. Some young men become even more embittered and others become more remorseful and self destructive. Once at SCI Camp Hill, the inmate will be evaluated; from crime the committed, to his attitude, and his IQ level. A classification ranging from 2 to 5 will be used to determine his destination… 5 being the worst and in isolation, down to a 2 for low security level.


Since 2001, all juveniles who have committed violent crimes will be sent to SCI Pine Grove, which was opened in 2001 for all of Pennsylvania’s teens who have committed violent crimes. Teens with long sentences of 5 or more years will stay at SCI Pine Grove until the age of 22. SCI Pine Grove is like a very strict boot camp for teens. There are group counseling sessions. Long term inmates and inmates sentenced to “Juvenile life Without Parole” will learn to live in the prison system. There is an adult wing as well at SCI Pine Grove with inmates that work in the kitchen, prison maintenance, and custodial jobs.


SCI Pine Grove is located in Indiana Pennsylvania and is situated at the end of the Jimmy Stewart Airport. When you pull up to the facility entrance, it looks like a high school. Very quickly that image disappears when you see the 15 foot high, double chain link fence topped with coiled razor wire around the rest of the building and property.


I have been to SCI Pine Grove many times, and met many of the young men that we have befriended at Prison Mentoring. Most of these guys have moved on to an adult facility. We have on our mentoring or friend list, inmates at SCI Somerset, SCI Coal Township, SCI Benner Township, SCI Camp Hill, SCI Dallas, and a few others. When I was visiting at SCI Pine Grove, I had a very good relationship with the Chaplain and the chapel program there was very good.

The very first young man whom I visited at SCI Pine Grove was David; a very conscientious young man who cared about other friends in there who were struggling. He worked for the counseling team for a while and assisted in the group counseling sessions to help and encourage other young inmates that needed some hope. David is definitely a hope giver and an encourager, and his heart is focused on helping others.  This beginning with David has evolved into making contact with others who are now on our mentoring list–which has grown to more than 3 dozen men that we have contact with. David was very involved with the Chapel program at SCI Pine Grove,  and he still is at SCI Dallas near Wilkes Barre.

When you visit an inmate at SCI Pine grove, you will be subject to a metal detector, a computerized drug scan, and your hand will be stamped with a black light readable stamp. The black light stamp is to insure the same person that has gone in is the same person coming out.

Each young man in Pennsylvania’s violent teen program at SCI Pine Grove have a unique story to tell. They range from the urban gang culture, to kids involved in drugs and theft, to young men who just really screwed up big time once, not realizing the seriousness of the consequences.

You can find stories written by the inmates themselves and stories written by their friend or Mentor at You can pray for these guys. You can encourage them. You can send them Birthday and Christmas cards (see info on our website). You can get to know them. They are just like us. A person that God created on purpose.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Ed Spencer wrote this article and a number of others that are available on this website.  He was responsible for inspiring me to do prison ministry, and he is a tireless advocate and mentor for young men who have made a bad mistake in life. In these articles, he shares his heart and experiences, hoping that you, too, will be inspired to reach out to a Christian behind bars…the rewards are great for those of us who do. For the cost of a postage stamp and a little time, you can make a difference in the life of a “forgotten Christian”, which will also make a difference in your life!  May you be richly blessed for your effort!  Sincerely, Rick DiLaurenzo



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