Prosecutors, lawmakers disagree on how to solve SC’s crime crisis
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The State Law Enforcement Division says 2020 was one of South Carolina’s most violent years on record and says 2021 will probably be even worse.
In fact, SLED is predicting more murders in the state this year than in any year since 1960, part of a trend that led to a 51% increase in murders over the past five years.
Prosecutors say the pandemic kept them from trying some violent criminals.
“COVID was like steroids injected into the criminal system,” Eleventh Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard says.
He says besides the pandemic, the spike in crime is being fueled by gangs and drugs.
Hubbard says there are 20 national and 40 affiliated gangs operating in just Lexington County alone, so he wants to see lawmakers pass a law to make it easier to prosecute them.
Instead, he says lawmakers are making the situation worse.
“My docket has gone up 54%,” he says.
Solicitors and lawmakers blame the pandemic for some of the spike.
“We were not able to prosecute cases and hold people accountable for their crimes. And so if you don’t do that consistently with the criminal community, they’re going to commit more crimes.”
But when it comes to the solution, they think differently: More people versus more gangs.
“We are seeing an uptick in crime because we are seeing an uptick in population we are growing by leaps and bounds in South Carolina,” House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Chris Murphy, R-Dorchester County, says.
“Many of the cases that involve violence that we’re seeing are directly linked to gangs,” Hubbard says. “It’s over turf, it’s over money, over business, and they don’t mind killing.”
Hubbard says more national gangs are operating in his county than he is used to seeing.
But Murphy says these gangs have been in the state since the 1990s. He says he is focusing his efforts on decreasing the state’s prison population to save the state money. He is spearheading a bill to remove mandatory minimums and reduce prison time for some drug offenses.
“We are trying to take those non-violent drug offenders who are typically addicts or first time offenders and get them out of the criminal justice system where they are not incarcerated,” Murphy says.
Hubbard calls the law dangerous.
“Please leave mandatory minimums because sometimes that is the key for a drug addict to see, ‘Maybe I need a drug court rather than prison.’
Hubbard wants lawmakers to pass a comprehensive gang law.
Murphy, however, counters that gang members can already be prosecuted for crimes like robbery and murder.
“There are plenty of tools in the toolbox for them to prosecute people,” Murphy says.
To help keep some nonviolent offenders out of jail, some parts of the state like Lexington County have drug courts.
Both men talked about the benefit of drug courts but disagree on how they should be funded. Hubbard says all they need is more money, while Murphy is looking into the different funding streams to learn more about how they are getting funding now.
Murphy’s bill passed the state House earlier this year. It will next be taken up in the Senate.
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