Helping former inmates

June 20, 2013 

South Carolina historically has done a poor job helping its former state inmates transition back into society. Too often, once a prisoner has fulfilled his sentence or been granted parole, the state simply opened the door and wished him well.

But a program started more than a year ago by the York County office of the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services offers more. By making the effort, the office is giving many men and women a chance to start new lives.

“Suit up for Success” seeks to help former inmates find jobs. Participants are taught how to fill out applications, prepare for job interviews and make a good impression with potential employers. They’re told how important appearance can be – from wearing the proper clothes to tucking in shirts. Some former inmates had gone to job interviews in T-shirts and sagging jeans.

The program provides clothes for its participants to wear to interviews and, it is hoped, new jobs. The York County probation office collects donated clothes to give to program participants. Among the clothing donated has been shoes, shirts, ties and dresses. Former and current office staffers have donated, as have local attorneys. The Catawba Indian Nation once brought in 14 bags of clothes.

“For these guys, they have no concept of what’s important to wear to a job interview,” said Dwight Burns, the county’s probation agent-in-charge. “The main concept was giving these guys something to increase that appearance. We want to give them a sense of confidence, a sense of self-worth.”

But the York County office does more than that. A local recycling center donates bicycles that probation officers give to participants who need transportation to work. One recent program participant told The Herald he rides his bike to work every day and is saving up money to buy a car.

The program, which is for men and women, only requires that the former inmates be unemployed.

The York County office offers the program even though it is short staffed. Turnover caused by promotions or better-paying jobs elsewhere has reduced the county’s total staff to five agents. Each serves an average of 200 offenders at one time.

Still, the York County probation office is a leader statewide in offering sentence reform programs.

Some may question whether a state agency should provide clothing to former inmates or coach them on how to get a job. But the U.S. Constitution addresses “domestic tranquility,” and we think that includes a secure society. Helping former inmates find better lives increases the chances they won’t commit more crimes and land back in prison.

Despite limited resources, the York County probation office is working to help former inmates become productive residents. From what several participants told The Herald, the program is working.

Thanks to these government workers for making a difference.

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