COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections is praising the efforts and funding of a program that empowers inmates upon their release.
SCDC Director Bryan Stirling says the job reentry program, which really began at Manning Reentry and Work Release Center, is now spreading out across the state. They expanded to Kershaw Correctional Institution before deciding to include it as an option in every SCDC prison.
“I think they’re seeing great success,” said Stirling. “They’re not coming back to prison. It’s a public safety thing. It’s also a taxpayer thing. If these folks come back to prison they’re gonna come back for a long time.”
The reentry program is optional but is a partnership between SCDC and the Department of Employment and Workforce, to give participants career-building skills and tackle any barriers to reentry like transportation, substance abuse issues, and housing.
“We teach them with the help of the Department of Employment and Workforce… how to explain incarceration – ‘yes, I went to prison, however, here’s what I did,’” Stirling said.
The state allocated $1.8 million to hiring last year. This year they want more but the $700,000 they asked for is not included in the House’s version of the upcoming budget. He said they need those funds, as they are expanding the program past its initial starting place of Manning Reentry and Work Release Center to all SCDC prisons.
Director Stirling says the program is one of the reasons for a decline in the three-year recidivism rate from 23.4% in 2011 to 22.3% in fiscal year of 2015. He also credits the success to sentencing reform in 2010 –since then, a steady drop in prison population across the state. The career development coaches inside prison walls say it’s about breaking through barriers for each inmate.
“You have to engage their minds and stimulate their minds to the point where they’re not thinking about being incarcerated,” said Latoya Richardson. “It’s about what’s thinking about what’s outside of being incarcerated.”
Richardson works with inmates at Manning Reentry. She empowers them to get out and stay out. Another statistic Stirling notes as important to this entire conversation in 2009, right before that sentencing reform, there were 24,460 inmates in SCDC custody. Forty-eight percent were nonviolent offenders and 52% were violent offenders.
In 2016, that population dropped to 20,951 inmates, 34% nonviolent , 66% violent. Director Stirling says that’s all due to that combination of sentencing reform and this re-entry program that’s building a bridge for those offenders to get out and stay out.