Correction: Life After Prison story
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — In a story Nov. 17 about a program preparing South Carolina inmates for life after prison, The Associated Press used a sentence fragment in the second paragraph, which has the potential to confuse the meaning of that sentence.
A corrected version of the story is below:
SC program aims to prepare inmates for life after prison
South Carolina’s prisons director says programs his agency is using to cut down on the number of people who end up back behind bars someday are innovative
By MEG KINNARD
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s prisons director says the innovative programs that his agency uses to reduce the number of people who end up back in prison could also serve as a model in the federal system.
It’s a system called “re-entry,” which Corrections Director Bryan Stirling tells The Associated Press has not only streamlined his agency by cutting down on the number of inmates coming back into prisons, but it’s also helped former inmates lead better lives outside the system.
Through a pre-release program, inmates with six months left on their sentences can go through special preparations and training on basics like what to wear for a job interview or how to handle a conversation about their incarceration with a potential employer. The Corrections Department also aims to help departing inmates find clothing, transportation, housing, and a job on the outside.
Stirling said South Carolina is out front on the idea, which started with former Gov. Nikki Haley, who appointed him to head up the state’s prisons. By working with other Cabinet chiefs heading up health, motor vehicles and workforce departments, Stirling said he’s been able to set up a network to help inmates adjust to the outside and stay out of prison for good.
In the past year, Stirling said the state’s prisons are down a total of 850 inmates, thanks in part to programs like this one.
“In South Carolina, because Gov. Haley and Gov. (Henry) McMaster asked us to work with other directors, you’re seeing those successes,” Stirling said.
The program started at one facility and has expanded to two others, thanks to $1.8 million in the governor’s budget. This summer, South Carolina prisons officials presented their ideas to federal officials, who have been working on ways to do the same with the federal system as part of an overall discussion on prison and sentencing reform.
In January, President Donald Trump convened a group of governors, faith-based leaders and experts to “break this vicious cycle” and find ways of bringing job training, mentoring, and drug addiction treatment to the nation’s prison population. Earlier this week, Trump announced his support for the first major rewrite of the nation’s criminal justice sentencing laws in a generation, saying the bill “will make our communities safer and give former inmates a second chance at life after they have served their time.”
It remains to be seen whether the proposal can pass Congress, but Stirling said the federal bill writers looked at states like his for inspiration.
Beyond putting soon-to-be-released inmates in touch with possible jobs, Stirling said he’s also finding ways to offer on-the-job training. Recently, his department has purchased paving equipment, whose purpose is two-fold: inmates can learn how to use the machinery for a potential future career, and Stirling said he can save the state money by paving his institutions’ roadways in-house.
The same is true with forklifts, which Stirling said he bought to help inmates train on skills they’d need working somewhere like the warehouses near the Port of Charleston.
“We’re looking at the economy and seeing what employers need,” Stirling said.
Programs like this one have helped reduce recidivism, or the percentage of prisoners who end up back in prison within three years. For 2015, the most recent year numbers are available, that figure was 22.3 percent, what Stirling said is an all-time low for South Carolina. That’s compared to 26.6 percent in 2009 and 33 percent in 2004.
“Before, it was, ‘Here you go, and we’re going to drop you off, and good luck,’” Stirling said, referencing a previous, more hands-off approach to releasing inmates after their sentences finished up. “If they want to take that ladder to success, it’s there for them.”
Meg Kinnard can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.