Amy Barch: Turning Leaf

June 13, 2017 – Our message this week came from Amy Barch, the executive director of Turning Leaf, a program with a mission to reduce crime and its costs by reducing recidivism.  Turning Leaf is small – there are only three employees – but its work has the potential to validate programs which could save our community, our state and our nation thousands of dollars.  Barch noted that in the 1980s there were around 500,000 prisoners incarcerated in our nations prisons and jails.  Today that number is 2.3 million.  It costs around $30,000.00 a year to incarcerate a prisoner in a federal penitentiary.  Each year 600 inmates are released and return to the Charleston community.  Currently 75% of those inmates who are released from prisons and jails nationally return to those institutions within five years of release. 

The program at Turning Leaf is based upon over forty years of research.  Barch’s team works with those most at risk of returning to crime.  The research shows that programs such as theirs do not significantly reduce the number of recidivists among the population of former inmates least likely to return to crime. 

There are four factors which determine the likelihood of an inmate to recidivate according to Barch. She and her colleagues have divided these factors into what she calls the four big ones and the four little ones. The big ones are anti-social behavior, impulsive and aggressive personality, criminal attitude and criminal friendships. The little ones are family dysfunction, substance abuse, low work and education experience and a lack of positive hobbies and activities. To overcome these factors Barch explained that they must change the beliefs of their clients in order to change their behaviors. 

To provide adequate help most clients need a minimum of 150 to 200 hours of cognitive behavioral therapy.  At the Turning Leaf re-entry center on Leeds Avenue Barch’s program provides daily classes, monetary stipends, case management and temporary work programs. These services are an essential addition to the intense therapy to ensure the success of the Turning Leaf program. The Turning Leaf program is the first of its kind, but drawing as it does on decades of research, it is quickly gaining national attention. Former Deputy Attorney General of the United States Sally Yates was so impressed she mentioned the program at an address to the Columbia University School of Law in New York. A group from Chicago is exploring how a program similar to that of Turning Leaf might help that city reverse an alarming rise in murders and gun violence. 

Barch explained that while the program is only a few years old they have not had a graduate recidivate.  The program is intense, but the possible rewards to society are great.  The cost of the Turning Leaf program is generally around $6,000 to $7,000 per former inmate.  Barch mentioned a case study of a client who was facing a possible ten-year sentence in federal prison.  The local federal court placed this client with Barch’s program and, assuming he successfully avoids recidivating, the savings to our nation  would be over $293,000 for this one client. 

Barch has lofty goals for Turning Leaf, but the project is well on its way toward achieving those goals.  She hopes to have sixty percent of the population of high-risk former inmates enrolled in classes and currently about fifty-seven percent are.  With a goal of placing seventy-five percent of graduates in permanent employment Turning Leaf is well on its way with a sixty-two percent rate.  And while it is too early in the program’s history to measure its progress on the last goal, all indications are that maintaining a recidivism rate of less than twenty percent after three years among graduates can be achieved by Barch’s team. 

When asked how we can help, Barch was not bashful.  Talking up the Turning Leaf program would help increase the public’s awareness of its mission and needs and helping find employment opportunities for Turning Leaf’s clients would be a great service.

Alex Dallis, Keyway Committee