The Intensive Supervision program is only for youthful offenders, defined as those between the ages of 17 and 25, who are in prison for the first time and for non-violent crimes.

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Columbia, SC (WLTX) A new way of keeping tabs on young criminals after they're released from South Carolina prisons has drastically reduced the number of new crimes they commit. The Intensive Supervision program has reduced the recidivism rate from 57 percent to 4.7 percent for youthful offenders.

The department gave out awards in Columbia Friday to outstanding Intensive Supervision officers and to some of the former inmates who've turned their lives around.

One of them was Dontia Chapman. "I was working and going to school, but I just had needed extra money to get by with my family and things, so I was like selling drugs and being in the street too," he says, explaining how he ended up in prison.

The Intensive Supervision program is only for youthful offenders, defined as those between the ages of 17 and 25, who are in prison for the first time and for non-violent crimes. While they're in prison, the program helps them get their GEDs, addictions treatment, anger management, counseling, and behavioral treatment if they need any of those.

Once they're released, their Intensive Supervision officers spend a lot more time with them than traditional parole officers would.

Corrections director Bryan Stirling says, "Being in their lives, visiting their homes, helping them get a GED or educational training, maybe work training, getting drug tested, visiting them, kind of unannounced visits, that they know that someone's watching them."

Ginny Barr, director of the Young Offender Parole and Reentry Services Division, says, "What makes it different is that the services are provided, so that it's more focused on helping you get a job, helping you get in school, making sure you get medication if you need it."

The department started the program three years ago under then-director Judge Bill Byars. Now that it's been in place for three years, they have the data to compare the recidivism rates.

Judge Byars says, "It has had an effect in the places where it has been put into place, and it will make our citizenry safer than they were."

Dontia Chapman got his GED and is now working in construction and staying out of trouble. He says if not for this program, "I probably would have been back home doing some other stuff, bad stuff."

Barr says because the program has been so successful, there has been talk of expanding it to more inmates. The problem is money. Since the supervision is so much more involved for each former inmate, a lot more officers would be needed. The program for youthful offenders cost about $3 million to set up and is serving about 1,100 current and former inmates. There are more than 21,000 total inmates in South Carolina prisons.

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