What is the Lowcountry Civic Justice Corps?
The Lowcountry Civic Justice Corps (LCJC) was created in 2007 in response to the high crime rates in the area. After extensive research and careful planning, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) selected North Charleston, Central Oregon, and Washington D.C. as three national pilot demonstration sites for the Civic Justice Corps. With a local prisoner recidivism rate of over 67% and the direct and indirect cost of $50,000 per inmate/yr, LCJC represents an innovative and effective solution based on modern research to improve public safety at a more reasonable cost. Through the education/training based approach to reentry, the LCJC aims to boost the health of families and communities.
The Lowcountry Civic Justice Corps (LCJC), the North Charleston site, is a prisoner re-entry program whose purpose is to combat recidivism by taking a proactive approach to rehabilitation. LCJC is designed to promote life-long changes by incorporating job training and personal development skills that assist in providing a more stable foundation for ex-offenders when they are released into society. These goals are achieved by the education focused program style. While many similar programs focus on job training, LCJC not only offers certification training in the green job industry but also focuses on the academic and personal development. The LCJC program allows the unique opportunity for ex-offenders to become AmeriCorps members which gives them access to educational scholarships and experience in providing services to communities effected most by crime. The idea of building the character of incarcerated individuals through job training, education, and accountability laid the foundation for this innovative reentry model.
Why was LCJC needed?
The Lowcountry of South Carolina is one of the most populated areas in the states, and in 2007 the FBI ranked one of the cities, North Charleston, the first in the state and seventh in the nation in violent crime. Property crime, drug sales, and other illegal activities provided income to citizens in neighborhoods where legitimate employment options were scarce or provided low wages and sporadic hours. This problem has created a self sustaining cycle of poverty, crime, and social collapse in inner city neighborhoods. In the state of South Carolina poverty levels has been a problem since the Post-Civil War era. The 2008 report by the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 15.7% of South Carolinians were below the poverty level and 50% of those at least 50% below the line.
In 2007, the Weed and Seed statistics reveals that 64% of Charleston Area inmates come from the communities being targeted. Law enforcement agencies in the area often report high levels of street crime in these communities which they trace to street-leveled drug dealing. These findings reflect a dire need for increase educational opportunities, training, job placement, and higher wage job opportunities in these areas. This is why the Lowcountry Civic Justice Corps attempts to take on this problem head on by rebuilding infrastructure while providing jobs, training, and support services to those in the Lowcountry. As the city and the nation moves into the era of green technology and energy efficiency offering training to selected ex-offenders who need and desire a second chance will be delivered. The offenders targeted are those who have families that are impoverished or close to it because of their incarceration. By offering these offenders the chance to develop themselves, their success will not only be felt individually but become a positive input into the community; subsequently lowering the child poverty rate in the area which is one the highest in the nation. This fact alone will put a major dent in the cycle of poverty in the area.
What does LCJC do?
The Lowcountry Civic Justice Corps (LCJC), a nationally recognized AmeriCorps program, was designed to build the character of incarcerated individuals through job training, education, and accountability. The goals of this program are to reduce recidivism, improve public safety through crime reduction, and strengthen the economical, social, and environmental capital for the greater Charleston, South Carolina communities. Utilizing the AmeriCorps “learn and serve” model, the LCJC model was structured so that Corps members would spend 900 hours receiving on-the-job training in green/energy efficient construction techniques and 225 hours of personal and educational development. During their term they would receive a living stipend of $5771 disbursed biweekly and upon completion of their 900 hours of service, LCJC corps members are entitled to and education award of $2362.50. In its 4 years of serving Charleston County the corps has graduated 4 classes equaling a total of 75 graduates. Of the 53 that have been released only 6%, or 3 individuals, have recidivated. This is estimated to account for over $840,000 per year in saving to the Department of Corrections if the members, which would be the cost if the state average recidivism rates remained the same for program. Five of the members successfully started a business; community crime has decrease significantly in the target communities. Thirty building rehabs and 12 community service projects have been performed in communities that once remained prey to the corps member’s crimes. The improvements in the structures of buildings have been estimated to worth over $1.3 million in the Charleston area in the past 4 years.
Recently, December of 2009 saw another class of graduates from the program. Despite the success of a 6% recidivism rate and thousands of dollars saved at the state and local levels, lack of funding for the program has prompted a suspension of its activities. The program is currently being reevaluated. Some impediments include no public funding, individuals in pre-release programs are restricted from working in occupied buildings and AmeriCorps prohibits these individuals from working for a for-profit organization.
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