CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council has been awarded $2.4 million to improve the local justice system.
That includes finding ways to help lower the jail population in the county. Charleston County was one of 13 places from across nation that was selected for additional funding from the MacArthur Foundation.
The funding allows the county to continue advancing local criminal justice system improvements and safely reduce the jail population.
The grant is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a national initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.
The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council known as CJCC says the Charleston County jail population is 18 percent smaller than in 2015. According to the council, there were 1,111 inmates in 2014 and there about 909 inmates as of this month.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArther Foundation has invested nearly $5 million between 2015 and 2020 in Charleston County.
The Chairman of the CJCC, Mitch Lucas, who is also the assistant sheriff in Charleston County, says the money will help make Charleston a better place.
“We have been able to secure the right mix of people at the right time who are all committed to improving our local criminal justice system and making it more efficient, effective, and equitable." Lucas said. “We have strengthened our ability to develop a more refined, data-guided approach to the reforms we’re implementing, and we want to build on that progress and continue improving as we move forward.”
Lucas says they will also look at why there are racial disparities in who is arrested.
The CJCC also plans to do more community outreach to find out how people think the justice system can be improved.
One way this initiative has lowered the jail population is the use of citation and release for low-level nonviolent crimes as opposed to putting people in jail for crimes that include simple possession of marijuana, open container, misdemeanor shoplifting, trespassing and public intoxication.
Other methods include improving the timeliness of assigning a prosecution and defense council and providing alternatives to jail for people with mental illness or substance use disorders.
“There is growing demand for criminal justice reform across the country, and local jurisdictions are leading the way,” said Laurie Garduque, MacArthur’s director of Justice Reform. “MacArthur is increasing our investment because we are seeing promising results and an appetite for more reform as evidenced by the diversity and creativity of the solutions implemented and tested across the Network. While progress is not always easy, and there is no single solution or quick fix, these jurisdictions are proving it is possible to rethink local justice systems from the ground up with forward-looking, smart solutions.”
According to the CJCC, several milestones have been accomplished and are in the works as a result of the awarded funds that include the following:
• Built a robust data warehouse combining data from across the criminal justice system to provide ongoing analysis and identification of areas for improvement
• Supported law enforcement’s use of jail alternatives, such as citation-and-release for individuals charged with five, low-level non-violent crimes, including simple possession of marijuana, open container, misdemeanor shoplifting, trespassing, and public intoxication
• Collaborated with multiple local agencies to reopen the Tri-county Crisis Stabilization Center. The center provides an immediate connection to treatment for those living with mental illness, substance use disorders, and/or homelessness rather than placing them in jail or costly emergency departments
• Started providing text message reminders to defendants with upcoming court appearances to help improve the use of valuable court time and reduce bench warrants for missing court
• Implemented a pretrial services report to inform bond-setting judges and provide better information regarding the risks to safety and/or failing to appear
• Accelerated key aspects of case processing with the implementation of cost-effective technology for a more efficient process for delivery of discovery; improved the timeliness of assignment of prosecution and defense counsel; and implemented the first-ever initiation of public defender representation in Central Bond Court for poor defendants that qualify;
• Provided funding for personnel to support the Administrative Order and Langford, effectively placing docket management under the court
• Issued several comprehensive reports to inform and update the community about its criminal justice system, progress to-date, and areas for further improvement
If you’d like to learn more about the Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council visit this link https://cjcc.charlestoncounty.org/.