The best way to keep youthful offenders from winding up behind bars again is to get them an education and a job, according to the state’s juvenile justice chief.
Keeping jailed juvenile inmates closer to their homes would help, too, Freddie Pough, acting head of the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice, said Wednesday at a meeting of Gov. Henry McMaster’s Cabinet.
Pough wants to house Juvenile Justice inmates in three regional centers, now used as provide temporary housing for youthful offenders while they are undergoing evaluation. Those centers are in Columbia, Union in the Upstate and Ridgeville near the coast.
Pough would move youths undergoing evaluation to the agency’s Broad River Road complex in Columbia, where about 100 or more youthful inmates now are incarcerated.
Housing youthful inmates closer to home would increase parental involvement and smooth the transition when the youths are released, Pough said.
“If I have a mother down in Beaufort who's making minimum wage, it's difficult for her to come see her son,” Pough said, adding when family members cannot visit, youthful inmates sometimes act out.
The change also will help youthful offenders find jobs in their communities, he said. The state would work with companies locally to find jobs and shape job-training programs.
Juvenile Justice officials now work to get the inmates jobs near the Columbia detention center. But when they are released and return to their homes, the inmates have to leave their Columbia-area jobs, Pough said.
McMaster called Pough’s proposal “a great idea” and said he will include it in his executive budget later this year.
Pough also said he will be asking for money for more hires to lower the ratio of inmates to corrections staff to eight inmates for every staffer.
Juvenile Justice is working to rebuild after gang activity led to a riot at the Broad River facility in February 2016. Questions about leadership led to the agency’s director resigning in January, leaving Pough as interim director.