In South Carolina, the 3-year recidivism rate for youth who are prosecuted and found guilty is 70.6|PERCENT|. A significant contributing factor to this has been a lack of reintegration supports for youth upon release. Juvenile offenders face a number of barriers when attempting to reintegrate back into society, not only because of their own personal struggles, but also due to their relationship with the environments into which they are reintegrating. Many confined juveniles return to communities with high crime rates and poverty, unstable households and family relationships, behavioral and medical issues, failing school systems and unemployment, which make effective reentry services so critical to their success.

Until recently, there had been no adequate resources available to address these needs. Despite the fact that in Richland County probation violations alone constituted about 23|PERCENT| of the cases handled in the last three consecutive years and they were one of the two most common committing offenses for Richland County youth identified as Seriously Mentally Ill, there had been no history of post-disposition representation and reentry services for the youth.

In October 2015, the Richland County Public Defender’s Office received a federal grant to start a Holistic Reentry Project that aims at providing reintegration planning and intensive case management for young people in Richland County who are returning to their communities after serving a period of secure confinement. The Holistic Reentry Project team includes a Licensed Master Social Worker, three Youth Advocates (master level social work interns), the case attorney who is the Project Director, and the support staff such as a paralegal and legal research interns.

The treatment team, led by the social worker, carries a maximum active caseload of 15 clients at any one time and each client is on the caseload for at least six months after his or her release from detention. The social worker, youth advocates and a case attorney communicate regularly to ensure legal, social, medical and educational goals of each client are being met. Services delivered by a social worker in this project include mental health, substance abuse, trauma, and adversity assessments, development of treatment plans, evaluation of the suitability of diversion alternatives as conditions of probation, and the screening and facilitation of connections to community services. The project provides further advocacy by fostering growth and development in the five systemic domains of positive youth development: family and housing, educational and economic development, supportive adult relationships, physical and mental health, and civic engagement and structured activities.

Based on research and needs of target population, the team has been working on selecting relevant, reliable assessment tools. Culturally competent interventions and tools have been selected to meet needs of client as youth from minority communities and recognize needs of LGBT youth and those who have experienced trauma. The team has also implemented a referral process. Referrals are received from the juvenile public defenders or a staff member from the Department of Juvenile Justice.  Once a referral is made, the social worker contacts the family to assess interest in the program, readiness to change, and motivation levels.  Once interest in the program is established, the social worker conducts a psycho-social assessment to identify needs, and a treatment plan is developed. Progress is assessed weekly with a review of the treatment plan at the one month, 3 month, and 6 month intervals.

Currently, 18 youth have been referred to the program. Ten youth have been accepted and are active with the program.  Youth advocates have been assigned to the youth in the program and have been meeting with these youth weekly to address identified needs. The youth advocates have established relationships with staff at the local alternative schools and have been meeting the youth weekly at school and contacting the parents weekly to assess progress and identify further needs.

In February 2016, the Richland County Public Defender’s Office received another grant to sponsor a position of a Juvenile Post-Disposition Reentry Fellow. The Fellow is a civil lawyer working at the Office and he is available to represent youth in the Holistic Reentry Project and other young people referred by other attorneys (anybody under 25 years of age). His representation encompasses collateral matters of young people involved in the system, such as educational advocacy, employment, housing matters, benefits and expungement. The role of the Reentry Fellow is crucial to assure that upon reentry to the community, young people are allowed to go back to their origin school, receive proper credits for their education at the correction facility, remain in school despite the increased risk of them being suspended and/or expelled, and that their special education needs are met. The Reentry Fellow works closely with the social worker and youth advocates, so together, the Reentry Team is able to address the whole range of barriers that impact both the young people and their families.

In addition to program development, the Reentry Team has focused on developing community relationships. The Team members have initiated collaboration with other state and local entities, nonprofit organizations, community stakeholders and interagency councils that aim at supporting youth in being successful in their lives.