South Carolina youth prisons agency plans to redistribute its teens held in detention from one centralized facility into three regional ones throughout the state: Columbia, Ridgeville and Union.
Department of Juvenile Justice officials decided “to transform how we’re providing services to our youth who are in our secure facilities,” Senior Strategist Monique McDaniels said.
Currently, all youth offenders are held at the long-term detention facility in Columbia. But after an audit revealed problems with the center, the department decided to transform the short-term evaluation centers in Union and Ridgeville so that kids in detention can be held closer to their homes.
“It’s a national best practice, so it’s not a new concept,” McDaniels said. “But what DJJ is doing and the way that we’re going to do it is going to be a whole new concept for the state as well as just taking in the whole mantra of trying to get kids rehabilitated, taking more of an approach of transforming and empowering them as opposed to a punitive approach.”
“We’re going to house them in those facilities closer to home and provide more family connection services, more transitional services and community outlets for them,” she said.
McDaniels said many families are unable to travel to Columbia for visits. She said detaining teens closer to their homes for potential family visits can incentivize good behavior and reduce recidivism.
“Most of our children come from impoverished communities as well as economically strained families and so you have parents or guardians that are unable to make the distance –sometimes two to three hours — to come to Columbia to visit their child,” she said.
McDaniels described one young man who said he hadn’t seen his mother or siblings in the two years he was held in detention in Columbia.
“I don’t even think they remember me,” she recalled him saying.
On average about 120 minors are at the Broad River Road facility in Columbia at any one time. The average age of a child entering the DJJ system is 14 and they average around 17 or 18 when they are released.
“Those are crucial, fundamental developmental years for our kids and so they need that family connection,” McDaniels said. “They need someone to be able to tell them that they’re doing a great job. That someone can be here to nurture them so they don’t miss out on everything that’s going on with their families.”
Adding two facilities will take the average travel for a parent from 80 miles to see their child to about 40 miles.
“If they’re closer to home you have more community involvement,” she said. “It’s an easier transition for them. So when a kid is away from home from anywhere from 12-36 months, if we can go ahead and get those services started for them in the community in which they’re going to be returning to, it’s going to be a better, smooth transition for them.”
The Union and Ridgeville facilities will have an 11,000 square-foot multi-purpose building added for classrooms and vocational training. Funding has been allocated for the plan in the state budget. The transition is expected to finish in late 2020.