SC organization comes to Columbia after proving success with keeping former inmates from returning to jail

COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO) — While more than 70 percent of people released from prison in the US are rearrested within 5 years according to Bureau of Justice statistics, the South Carolina Department of Corrections boasts the lowest recidivism rate. 

How is the Palmetto State leading the nation in keeping former inmates from going back to jail?

“What we do is we prepare people with job skills and education. We find housing for them. We find that 33 percent of our population has mental health issues, so we connect them with programs on the outside. We set them up for success if they want it,” said Bryan Stirling, director of South Carolina Department of Corrections.

It starts with the South Carolina Department of Corrections but one nonprofit organization is furthering this rehabilitation of former inmates. 

“I always wanted to do something in the field of social justice. I used to want to be a lawyer,” said Amy Barch, founder of non-profit Turning Leaf.

After volunteering in a Charleston jail, Amy Burch quit her job so she could start working on a project she called Turning Leaf. 

“Most of the time when we think about reentry, we think about housing, transportation, ID and people needing a job,” Barch said. “While all of those things are really important, if we can’t help people manage life differently, when those same problems come back up, we’re not going to help someone be successful long-term.”

Turning Leaf teaches people life skills and has a therapeutic approach to helping those it serves reenter society. It also runs a screen printing business which helps the students learn job skills.

“I think one of the big misconceptions about people coming out of prison is access to employment,” Barch said. “I do think there’s quite a bit of access to employment but it’s about helping people succeed in those jobs.”

Turning Leaf says it has found success by connecting students to employers and works with many of the same companies over and over again.

“I’m very confident this could be a model for reentry services throughout this country,” Stirling said.

Barch says one key to the success of Turning Leaf is former students staying to work as teachers.

“It’s a huge part of our program model,” she said. “When the new participants come in and they see people that have been through the program actually on staff, it’s a game changer.”

The program opened a new facility in Columbia today, with the governor stopping by for the ribbon cutting.

After a tough couple of years getting the non-profit started, Barch is amazed at the progress the program she has been passionate about has enjoyed.

“None of us want to be judged on the worst thing that we ever did,” the Turning Leaf founder said. “I find that the men that I work for inspire me. They work harder than most people do at trying to change their life despite the lot they’ve been given.”

It’s a program that’s helping individuals and society as a whole.

“This not only saves tax dollars but this is good for public safety. This is good for families,” Stirling said “This is good for our communities.”

Turning Leaf is changing its name to Turn90 but is still the same program.

After opening today in Columbia, the Charleston-based organization plans to open a facility in the upstate Greenville area.

Categories: Local News, Richland