Amy Barch had no plans to become a director of a nonprofit organization, but she is really good at it.
In fact, Barch just might change the world.
Six years ago, she opened the Turning Leaf Project with the hugely ambitious goal of preventing violent criminals from returning to a life of crime after prison. And it is important. Law enforcement officials will tell you that recidivism is one of the biggest problems in the country.
An official from the Charleston County Jail once told me that they had booked about 8,900 people in six months. About 1,000 detainees were responsible for three or more of these arrests; nearly half of them have been arrested at least five times. In common parlance, frequent travelers accounted for almost half of their bookings.
The point is to arrest the most chronic offenders and crime drops dramatically.
Ten years ago, while waiting for tables to support herself, Barch designed a cognitive behavioral therapy program to change the habits and mindset of repeat offenders. She combined intensive classroom training with one-on-one counseling and job placement assistance, and it worked.
Data compiled by its staff shows that less than one in four Turning Leaf graduates are re-arrested for anything. By comparison, national statistics suggest that 67% of those released from prison are re-arrested within three years.
The remarkable success of Turning Leaf is attracting a lot of attention. Chicago officials saw the program as a way to tackle their well-documented problems, and the Stanford Social Innovation Review recently published Barch’s article on cognitive behavioral therapy.
Now Turning Leaf is expanding to Columbia in October and upstate by 2023.
“Our plan is to become a national model,” says Barch. “We want more data-driven evidence to show that we are doing something to reduce recidivism, that we can do it somewhere other than here. “
Barch is his own harshest critic, constantly re-evaluating and refining his techniques. She does not claim victory or rest on her documented success; she is always looking to improve.
But she has already made local and state officials believe. Turning Leaf’s recent fundraising campaign quickly raised over $ 1.7 million from private and corporate donors. And Dorchester County State Representative Chris Murphy, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, put $ 667,000 in this year’s state budget to help Turning Leaf grow.
Murphy says he plans to get more funding for Turning Leaf next year because it’s not just good public policy, it’s about money and common sense.
“For every $ 667,000 invested in Turning Leaf, the state saves between $ 1.1 and $ 4.3 million in jail costs avoided,” he notes. “The expansion will impact the lives of 350 men, reduce recidivism rates by two-thirds, create an expanded model for statewide – and ultimately national – prison reintegration – and pioneer criminal justice reform in America. “
South Carolina has a better-than-average record in reducing recidivism – in July, the state’s Department of Corrections announced it had the lowest recidivism rate in the country at 22%. Which reflects the results of Turning Leaf.
But these statistics from the Correctional Service measure the number of inmates who return to its institutions within three years. Thanks to a coronavirus crippled justice system and backlog of cases, it sometimes takes longer than that for people to be convicted again.
Turning Leaf’s recidivism statistics include anyone arrested for anything, even traffic violations or misdemeanors. And Barch only deals with people imprisoned for violent crimes; it does not engage those least likely to reoffend.
You can spend every day in Turning Leaf’s North Charleston Center and meet guys with stories that are both terrifying and inspiring: men who shot people in drug deals gone wrong and talking. now with pride in changing their lives.
Some work in Turning Leaf’s screen printing shop, which gives some guys their first job and raised nearly $ 250,000 for the program last year. Barch also hired a few of his graduates to staff the center. Turning Leaf has so many success stories it’s mind boggling.
One of Barch’s first clients came by the other day. She remembered him – she remembers them all – because the guy had particularly lofty goals. He had always dreamed of starting his own business and buying a house. She had warned him to set realistic goals.
But he stopped to let her know that he had just bought a four bedroom house for his family. The most amazing thing is that this is not a result unique to Turning Leaf.
As the program expands to the capital, expect more people to notice the good work being done by Barch’s non-profit organization. This will undoubtedly lead to even more expansion.
And that’s how Barch could possibly change the world.