REDUCING VIOLENCE AND TRANSFORMING CONDITIONS: SC prison aims to improve life for inmates and staff

TURBEVILLE, SC (WOLO) — Does improving prison conditions reduce violence?

That was the question asked by those involved in a new initiative called ‘Restoring Promise’ have been asking.

“My first time coming to Turbeville [Correctional Institution], I got in a fight on my second day” said one inmate.

To work on reducing violence at the Turbeville prison, South Carolina Department of Corrections teamed up with other organizations to create the ‘Restoring Promise’ initiative. 

It involves moving prisoners from general population to an improved unit where they participate in a mentorship program.

“It’s an approach that people take and make what they want what they will. They are constantly learning from each other,” said Selma Djokovic, research director for Restoring Promise. 

“Changing any culture is tough, but changing prison culture can be difficult,” said Bryan Stirling, South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) director. “This is having a major impact on prison culture. Why is that?”

Stirling says that the new unit has resulted in less violence and a safer environment not only for those who live in the prison, but also for those who work there.

“I think it’s helped retain staff. Staff want to do this,” said the SCDC director. “The warden who was here said he stayed in the career for a little longer because he felt like he was helping folks who were incarcerated.”

The new unit provides inmates with new freedoms such as a room to themselves and also new responsibilities. One inmate with a life sentence was able to become a mentor through the Restoring Promise initiative.

“To know that I was going to go from general population to a space where I can be an asset to fellow incarcerated people was a good feeling. It’s been a good feeling ever since,” the mentor said.

As a mentor, he says he helps teach lessons he has learned in prison to younger inmates who have a chance of being released. 

“I’m not so concerned about education,” the inmate said. “It’s important to but brothers need to get somewhere in their hearts, learn empathy and cry.”

One young inmate who is part of the Restoring Promise unit says he continually got in trouble in prison when he first arrived.

“I just got tired of doing the same thing,” the young man recalled. “What’s the outcome of me continuing to fight? I go to lockup and I come back.”

Now, the mentee hopes to put the lessons he has learned from his mentors to practice when he is released from prison later this year.

“Life is all about what you make it,” the mentee said. “I’m trying to make the best out of it because I missed a lot.”

Director Stirling says the state department of corrections hopes to translate the success of the ‘Restoring Promise’ initiative to more prisons and hopes to open a similar unit in the future in a women’s prison.

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