Phoenix Connect program aims to help juvenile offenders turn lives around

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A new program in Greenville is trying to help troubled kids turn their lives around.

Phoenix Connect is aimed at stopping juvenile offenders from going back to jail.

On any given day there are 15 teenagers locked up in the Greenville County Juvenile Detention Center.

Behind the steel door teen offenders, as young as 11 years old are serving time, each one with a different story, the one Police know, and the ones that no one knows.

“I was just hanging out with the wrong people, trying to fit in with the wrong crowd which brought me here,” said 16-year-old Tahliyah Sullivan.

In 2018 Sullivan was caught with two friends who were shoplifting from the Haywood Mall.

“They were stealing, I knew they were but I didn’t say anything. I thought they were my friends at the time so I didn’t want to give them up,” said Sullivan.

She was locked up for a month and a half.

“It scared me, it scared me a lot. I didn’t want to come here.”

Although she didn’t know it, she was one of the lucky ones.

Shanada McFadden, a licensed clinical counselor, oversees a pilot program at the Greenville County Juvenile Detention Center called Pheonix Connect. It’s designed to uncover secrets about past trauma.

Through art writing and mostly group therapy the troubled teens are encouraged to open up about their pasts.

“It helps me get a better picture of what’s going on and the ACE score goes to court with them,” said McFadden.

The “Adverse Childhood Experiences” or ACE assessment, ranks a child’s trauma and is now giving judges a window into the teen suspect’s past, an insight that until now remained hidden from the court.

“These kids have so much going on, so much history that has happened to them before they reach age 18 and no one has taken the time to dig into that to really figure out the what and the why. So I feel as though my position is powerful and I’m very very grateful that it’s something coming of it and it has helped so many adolecents,” said McFadden.

The grant funded program was started by the Phoenix Center in Greenville.

Spencer Beeson and other staff had noticed a disturbing pattern; teen offenders needing its drug treatment services were not getting in fast enough.

“A lot of times it was taking a while for them to get into our door and recieve services and often times in that time period they were getting another charge, maybe going back to court, going back to jail. So that was kind of what prompted us to look into starting this grant program.”

Two years later the program has been shown to reduce repeat offenses by 13% and the length of detention time by 29.

The numbers promising but don’t do “justice” to the personal success stories that help explain why a teen girl committed assault and battery.

“She was actually sexually molested by her father on her birthday,” said McFadden.

Arrest records rarely explain why teens are charged with running away from home.

“Come to find out there was some abuse going on in the home, that was part of the reason this client had run away,” said Beeson.

What better place than a room with no closets for the skeletons to come out.

“I didn’t even tell my parents. I just now told my parents this year,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan says she was sexually abused by a family member. It took landing in jail, and the Phoenix Connect program to get her the therapy she needed.

“I’m kinda glad I got through therapy because without it I probably don’t know where I’d be right now. “I’ve hit rock bottom and it sucks but you just gotta remember that you get back up because the fall was worth it,” said Sullivan.

The program has shown so much promise it has caught the eye of other South Carolina counties. Richland and Charleston counties are looking into applying for the same grant with Blue Cross Blue Shield to start a program of their own.

The grant funded program in Greenville is set to end in January but the Phoenix Center is hoping Greenville County Council will allocate funds to keep the program going, given its success.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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