year, about 1,000 inmates are released onto Charleston-area streets,
many hoping for a clean start and a chance to turn their lives around.
If patterns hold true, however, more than two-thirds of that group
will go on to commit more crimes and end up under arrest once again,
A coalition of nonprofit and faith-based groups is hoping to break
this cycle of recidivism with various initiatives to help ex-convicts
move beyond old behaviors to become productive members of society.
The idea is not to shower offenders with more handouts but to help
them find the tools, support and connections they need to secure
housing, jobs and spiritual stability, said Ashley Pennington,
president of the nonprofit Noisette Foundation.
"When you address someone coming out of prison, it's not enough to
say 'OK, you're sick. Here's a prescription' and move on," said
Pennington, a former Charleston County public defender. "What's being
missed is that person has to want and desire a new life and then be
able to connect to healthy pathways to be successful."
To further that goal, groups are working to bring a nationally
recognized substance abuse treatment and career training program to the
former Charleston Naval Base to work with released offenders. Other
efforts include mentoring and life-skills assistance for ex-convicts,
an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) project aimed at
finding ways to steer people from crime and poverty, and a voluntary
association called the Civic Justice Corps in which released offenders
perform service projects to give back to the community.
"We're encouraging people to live more deeply and to grow into who
they are supposed to be: the parents and leaders of our community,"
A special briefing on the programs was held for law enforcement
officials, magistrates, clergy and other community leaders Monday at
the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in North Charleston. The
goal was to build support for a regional advisory committee on the
issue and encourage greater community participation in dealing with the
"We've got to stop thinking of this as 'we' and 'them,' " said Jack
McGovern, president of HIS Way Ministry. "If we're going to solve this
problem it's got to be 'us.' "
A key element of the plan is an effort to replicate the Delancey
Street Foundation treatment and training program, which started in San
Francisco in 1971 and reportedly has helped more than 15,000 people
turn their lives around. The program provides a structured educational
and living environment in which released offenders can learn skills
needed to rebuild their lives. The Delancey Street Foundation and
Milton Eisenhower Foundation picked North Charleston as one of five new
sites across the nation, and property has been set aside on the old
base for the program, which will provide the only free, long-term
substance abuse rehabilitation program along the South Carolina coast,
The effort is being dubbed SC STRONG for South Carolina Sustaining, Teaching, and Rebuilding Our New Generation.
Freddie Baca, a Delancey Street resident who runs the organization's
Los Angeles operation, said he had used heroin most of his life and was
facing several robbery charges when he arrived at Delancey Street 12
years ago. He lost his father and two brothers to drug overdoses, and
he had only a sixth-grade education. Through the program, he was able
to conquer his addiction, earn a high school equivalency diploma and go
on to obtain a college degree, real estate license and contractor's
Lt. Mike Delane, a San Francisco firefighter, said the program
helped him kick crack-cocaine and heroin habits when nothing else
worked. "It saved my life," he said.
With roughly 23,000 inmates, South Carolina has the sixth highest
incarceration rate in the nation and a system that operates like a
revolving door. Charleston County sent roughly the same number of
people to prison last year as were released. And with tougher
sentencing laws reducing opportunities for parole, nearly half of those
released end up on the street with no supervision, authorities said.
The average South Carolina inmate is 34 years old with an
eighth-grade reading level. Nearly half have a substance abuse problem,
and most have children. Nearly 40 percent will return to prison within
five years, and many others will be arrested for minor offenses,
The Palmetto State is hardly unique. A 15-state study of 272,111
prisoners released into society in 1994 found that two-thirds committed
at least one serious crime within three years of leaving custody. Those
with the highest rearrest rates were inmates who had been incarcerated
for stealing motor vehicles, committing property crimes and robbing
others, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or email@example.com.