State auditors recommended that South Carolina study moving away from the use of wilderness camps, as other states have done.
Georgia’s juvenile justice agency terminated its contacts with AMIKids in 2012 due to concerns about their effectiveness, said Joe Vignati, assistant commissioner and chief of staff of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.
Vignati said that his agency found it more advantageous to work with teens in their home communities. There, they can take advantage of family ties, friends and schools to help kids stay on track. Research shows that removing youths and breaking those ties often makes it harder for them to adjust and succeed when they return, he said.
“If you can intervene when a youth is still in the community, before you have to remove them, then you are going to get much better results,” he said.
Florida Juvenile Justice Secretary Christina K. Daly said her state has adopted a similar approach and cut its residential treatment placements in half since 2011. Recruiting staff for remote places like Big Cypress proved very challenging, and the staffing shortage contributed to problems at the camp. Florida has seen greater success working with youths in their hometowns and allowing police to issue civil citations for minor offenses rather than funneling kids into the justice system, she said.
“The deeper you go in the system, the higher the chances for recidivism,” she said.