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New report reveals drop in inmate numbers, progress in jail reform

(Source: AP) (Source: AP)
CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) -

One year after launching efforts to cut down on the number of people behind bars in Charleston County, new data reveals a drop in inmate numbers since 2014.

Last year, the Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council was tasked with forming a three-year plan to safely lower the jail population. Strategies include reducing jail bookings for lower level offenses such as simple possession marijuana and open container while increasing alternatives for people dealing with mental health issues and substance abuse.  Other initiatives include cutting time between booking and case disposition, as well as implementing an automated court date reminder system.

The council’s efforts are supplement by $2.25 million in funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge grant.

“What started as a competitive grant application in early 2015 has grown into the most transformative and collaborative criminal justice system improvement effort I have seen in my more than 30 years in law enforcement,” CJCC Chairman and Charleston County Assistant Sheriff Mitch Lucas said.

The report, compiled and released by the CJCC, features data from Charleston County law enforcement, courts, as well as the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center.

2016 data indicates the average daily population at the detention center dropped 10% between 2014 and 2016. Ultimately, Charleston County aims to reduce the average daily population by 25% over the next two years. The jail capacity is currently 1,917, according to county documents. 

The 2016 report reveals further markers, including:

  • Criminal charges brought by the four largest arresting agencies in the County are down 28% between 2014-2016.
  • Of all charges made, the use of non-custodial arrests is up by 14% between 2014 and 2016.
  • Bookings into the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center are down by approximately 30% between 2014 and 2016.
  • In 2014, African Americans were booked into the jail 3.4 times as often as Caucasians.  In 2016, African Americans were booked into the jail 2.3 times as often as Caucasians.

A new database is a core element of the CJCC's initiative, to better track and analyze department data. 

“I am excited about the progress made in the first year which has led to meaningful reductions in jail incarceration,” City of Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said in a press release.  “Working with all of our partners, we have implemented strategies that are creating positive outcomes. It’s exciting to see a 28% decrease in the number of criminal charges, a 14% increase in the use of cite and release, and a 30% decrease in jail admissions.  This demonstrates the value of strong partnerships by all members of the criminal justice system and how using alternative methods to jail can address concerns without compromising community public safety.” 

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