The steel doors of the Aiken County detention center swing open or closed to let people in or out – but for some inmates who keep getting arrested after they've left, that door is ever revolving.
Many inmates who have been arrested, or served a sentence in the detention center, leave the facility's steel doors only to run into a brick wall when it comes to finding a job and getting back into society, according to Capt. Nick Gallam, jail administrator.
Of the 5,872 book-ins at the jail from July 2013 to July 2014, there were 2,209 repeat offenders, for a recidivism rate of almost 38 percent for that year.
The jail has a variety of programs available to help inmates make changes in their lives, and subsequently keep them from returning to jail. Gallam said local jails though, such as the Aiken County detention center, are limited by how long they have inmates in their custody. Some inmates are booked in and released the same day, while others are sent from the Aiken jail to the S.C. Department of Corrections.
“A local jail really isn't in the rehabilitation business,” he said. “Our average length of stay is so short, for the most part, that we're just not equipped to get people into some long-term programs that are going to fix them.”
Two of the jail's most successful programs, both in participation and completion, are the GED and a program known as WorkKeys.
WorkKeys helps job seekers make career decisions and compare their skills to those required by in-demand jobs.
Both programs have been made available to inmates through a partnership with Aiken County Public Schools Adult Education, and each has an instructor that comes to the jail on a weekly basis. At the end of the program, the inmates take an assessment, just as any other student would.
Gallam noted that most basic jobs require at least at a high school diploma or GED.
“If that guy gets out and does not have that education ... he has nothing to go to,” he said. “Imagine if you couldn't get a job and you've got to provide for your family.”
Thinking, believing differently
One of the newest resources the jail has to fight recidivism is Chaplain Ron Morse, who joined the detention center staff last month from the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry.
“Many programs in correctional facilities and jails are behaviorist. They try to get people to change their behaviors,” Morse said. “You can't change the person. Through coming to knowledge of Christ and coming to that religious experience, that changes the person – it changes the way he thinks. When a person thinks differently and believes differently, they act differently.”
Morse said he believes by touching inmates on a spiritual level, they find motivation to live their lives differently and, more importantly, they can find some hope. “You can live 40 days without food. You can live four minutes without air. But you can only live seconds without hope,” he said.
Many of the organizations, services and volunteers that work with the jail's inmates are religious-based. In addition to helping inmates find a new spiritual strength, Morse said they also give the inmates a positive “family” to interact with and reinforce healthy habits and changes.
He noted some inmates may get their GED while in jail but have difficulty finding employment; however, the religious services can help connect them to a local employer.
‘The ones that come back’
The jail can offer every type of program available, but Gallam said it's ultimately up to the inmate to take the initiative and make a change. He compared it to the Aiken Safe Communities initiative that offers repeat-offenders a chance to get their lives back on track.
“We want to give you the things you need to succeed, but the catch with that is, you've got to take them,” he said. “There's still going to be some people that don't want it, and they're not going to take advantage of it. They're going to be the ones that come back to jail.”
The recidivism prevention programs the jail offers – including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous – come at no cost to taxpayers, except for the GED and WorkKeys programs, which are partially taxpayer-funded, Gallam said.
The programs have increased in availability and participation in the past several years, and the detention center is looking to add more opportunities. Gallam said the jail is open to talking with local organizations and providers about ideas they have.
Morse said it costs taxpayers about $35,000 per year to house a single inmate, and that doesn't include the services provided by the Department of Social Services, the district attorney's office, publicly funded defense and welfare an inmate's family might receive.
“It can reach extremes of up to $100,000 a year per inmate, and (taxpayers) are paying for that,” he said, adding that offering recidivism programs are a better alternative than simply locking inmates up for a while and letting them go.
“There are plenty of new criminals as there (is),” he continued. “To have the same ones coming back over and over again is an enormous burden on the taxpayers.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012.