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SC Prisons Enter Partnership To House, Rehabilitate Youthful Offenders

SCDC to enter “participatory and restorative justice framework” with New York City-based organization …

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South Carolina’s Department of Corrections (SCDC) has been chosen to participate in a collaborative program with the New York City-based Vera Institute of Justice in the hopes of “transform(ing) living conditions for incarcerated young adults across the country.”

The partnership is part of Vera’s “Restoring Promise” initiative, which seeks to address “the conditions of confinement for young adults.”

“Our work with Restoring Promise has already demonstrated that applying a participatory and restorative justice framework that ingrained systemic challenges results in sustainable change for people who live and work in prisons, as well as their families and communities,” said Alexandra Frank, a leader of the institute’s youth justice team.  “We’re so pleased to build upon this work and partner with the team at the South Carolina Department of Corrections as they take this bold step to reimagine their approach to working with incarcerated young adults.”

SCDC is the second correctional system in America (and the first statewide system) to be selected by Vera – which will create a new dormitory environment for young inmates at Lee Correctional Institution.  Earlier this year, Lee was the site of the bloodiest prison violence America has seen in nearly a quarter century.  A gang-related attack in mid-April left seven inmates dead and another seventeen wounded at this level three (maximum security) facility near Bishopville, S.C.

Just this weekend, the facility was the site of another stabbing.

Can a “participatory and restorative justice framework” fix its problems?  SCDC officials are willing to give it a try …

“We are thrilled to partner with the Vera Institute of Justice to build on our successes by continuing to develop innovative and ground breaking ways to rehabilitate our young adult populations,” SCDC director Bryan Stirling said in a statement. “We are committed to improving public safety by reducing the number of young adults who return to our prison by making tools available to start productive lives on the outside.”

Stirling’s deputy for youthful offender programs – Virginia Barr – added that the partnership with Vera would “greatly enhances (SCDC)’s ability to transform the conditions of confinement for young adults” and help to “ensure that these participants leave SCDC better than when they arrived.”

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This news site has covered violence in Palmetto State prisons for several years now – lamenting what we have termed a “culture of chaos.”  Over that time, we have proposed several reforms aimed at mitigating this chaos.

Not all of these are dainty reforms, either.  For example, as part of our conceptualization of “sentencing reform” we have argued that certain crimes are so heinous as to warrant the reimposition of capital punishment – which has been effectively banned in South Carolina due to a lack of access to the chemicals necessary to perform lethal injections.

But ultimately, whether a state is escalating punishments – or mitigating them – we are ultimately dealing with a wheat and chaff situation in which circumstantial discernment must be exercised.

As we noted last fall, “the ultimate objective of any correctional institution must be to contribute to public safety by keeping dangerous individuals contained and reforming (to the extent possible) those inmates willing to change the trajectory of their lives.”

The trick is knowing the difference …

To the extent this program purports to help those who are willing to change, we support it.  We just hope it is accompanied by the adoption of stern measures for those who have proven themselves to be beyond redemption on this side of the great divide.

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