South Carolina’s prisons agency has been selected to offer a program for younger offenders it hopes can replicate success at prisons in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
The “Restoring Promise’ program is offered through the Vera Institute for Justice and targets inmates 18-25 years old.
“This is a challenging population that we see a recidivism rate which tends to be a little bit higher,” Department of Corrections director Bryan Stirling said. “Because they still are young men, they do tend to come back at a higher rate than folks that are a little bit older.”
Stirling said about 14 percent of South Carolina inmates fall within the 18-25 range.
“I think that’s very important that they receive this programming so when they come out, they will be prepared to be successful, not go out and commit more crimes and come back at great tax dollar cost for a long time to the Department of Corrections,” Stirling said.
Through the program, Stirling said the inmates will get “mentoring” and will be in school for three hours a day to earn a high school diploma or G.E.D. or learn a skill for after release. “They’re going to be in programming for the other portions of the day doing conflict resolution, money management, communication skills, impact of crime and parenting,” he said.
Inmates’ families also will be involved. Stirling said administrators in South Carolina will be able to get advice on what works and resources through the program from participants in other states.
Initially the program will be offered at Allendale Correctional Institution but agency officials hope to eventually expand it to other SCDC facilities. “We have a good base here with what we were doing with our youthful offender program and we’re going to expand that,” he said.
In addition to volunteers, Stirling said the program includes mentors who are men who have been in the inmates’ shoes, not someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to be behind bars because they’ve never been there themselves.
“Becoming a partner in the Vera Institute of Justice Restoring Promise Initiative greatly enhances the Department’s ability to transform the conditions of confinement for young adults,” added SCDC Director of the Division of Youthful Offender, Parole, and Reentry Services Virginia Barr. “This program will ensure that these participants leave SCDC better than when they arrived.”
“This is the time and the opportunity to get them because if we don’t get them here then they will come back for a very long time and they’ll be on the tax rolls for a long time and they’ll be incarcerated for a very, very long time,” he said.
The program is paid for with money from the SCDC budget, but Stirling believes its effectiveness will save the state money in the long-term. “Frankly, if we don’t do this it’s going to end up costing more because these folks will come back after they commit crimes on the outside for a very long time, so we’re trying to stem that, turn their lives around.” he said.
South Carolina had to apply for the program. Inmates have to apply to participate and commit to its strict rules.
“They’re not just sitting around watching TV,” Stirling said. “They are held responsible and if they don’t do what they’re supposed to be doing, they’ll be cast out of the program. So they want to be in this program and they have to want to turn their lives around.”