The latest round of state budget cuts are deeper than some projected. With 5 percent across-the-board reductions looming, the Department of Juvenile Justice Director Bill Byars is worried that they may lose progress his agency has made in keeping youth from returing to detention centers.
One of those lower-cost solutions has been contracting the services of wilderness schoolsalso called camps, run by the Associated Marine Institute, called AMIkids, based in Florida. These supervised centers teach life skills and school for youth deferred from DJJ. There are AMIkids single-gender facilities throughout South Carolina.
Rickie Hardy is executive director of Piedmont Wilderness Institute near Clinton, SC. “It’s on the outskirts, in a wilderness type of environment. our campus consists of an education building, an office building, dormitories, kitchen facility and a ropes course throughout the acreage on the campus,” says Hardy.
Outdoor exercise and skills are a part of the curriculum, along with counseling. Hardy says he has a variety of staff: “We have highly-qualified teachers, same that would be in the public school system. We have a treatment team which consists of a master counselor and a human service professional. We have teams, evening shifts run by a team leader and behavior modification specialist. We have night staff and a ropes course instructor, among other things.”
Judge Bill Byars, the Director of DJJ, recently told SCRN that he is a fan of the wilderness schools:”We know that kids are in a wilderness camp do better than kids who are behind a razor wire. There are probably two reasons for that. One, we don’t send the worst kids to wilderness camps and two, they just do a better job.”
DJJ still has to adhere to a federal court standard for youth prisons after SC was found to be overcrowding and underserving juvenile offenders. Judge Byars says the rural wilderness camps are a cost effective solution.
“There’s not as much bad influence [at the camps] that is going on. That is why we need to reduce the numbers behind the razor wire, get more kids into the wilderness camps where we know we’ll get a better result for them. Also, wilderness camps are cheaper,” Byars says.
DJJ now faces another round of across-the-board cuts which could amount up to more than $4.6 million.