Charleston County announces plan to reform local criminal justice system

Three-year plan to reform local criminal justice system
Published: Feb. 19, 2016 at 12:05 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 19, 2016 at 2:35 AM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

The Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) announced a six part plan Thursday to reform the local criminal justice system.

"Some of the things we're doing here, we made the decision early on, we're doing is because it's the right thing to do," Asst. Sheriff Mitch Lucas said.

Lucas leads the CJCC, which consists of local leaders from law enforcement, the courts, mental health departments and more.

The council said reform plans include a long-term goal of reducing the jail population by 25%.

"When the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council did some data mining, they looked at all the numbers at the detention center and determined how many folks were chronic offenders, repeatedly in and out of the detention center,"

Deborah Blalock, executive dir. of the Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Center.

According to the CJCC-calculated data, 631 people are repeat offenders, serving an average of 62 days in jail per year. Those offenders rack up more than 2 million dollars in jail resources.  The group said many often have mental health issues that need support, which a jail setting can exacerbate.

"We wanted to look at those folks and see what their needs were to keep them out of the detention center," Blalock. "These are non-violent offenders. Low offenses, perhaps like trespassing, loitering, and public drunkenness."

But, it's not just repeat offenders filling the jail. The group said many are arrested for small charges and awaiting trial, some up to 190 days.

The council wants to cut that time by 37%.

"We not only affect those who haven't been able to make bond, but it'll affect those out of jail," Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said "It'll affect victims, witnesses and our law enforcement."

The council plans to make these changes over three years. Changes the group said can make a big difference to the community.

"Never in my 22-year career have I seen everyone from every sector come together to focus on a single issue with a single goal in mind," Blalock said "and that's what's happening with this."

Strategies include:

  • Implementing a risk assessment instrument for law enforcement officers enabling them to have a uniform approach during decisions to arrest
  • Identify and create appropriate real-time alternatives to jail for individuals presenting substance use, mental health, medical and/or social issues
  • Launch an automated court date reminder system to reduce the need for criminal bench warrants.
  • Enhance the bond setting process to be more risk-based and provide bond setting judges comprehensive information about defendants.
  • Significantly reduce the time it takes for General Sessions cases to be resolved.

The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council applied for a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation gr ant of $3.4 million to fund these changes.

Most of that money will go towards needed personnel to support the six strategy program, according to CJCC chair and Asst. Sheriff Mitch Lucas.

The council was awarded phase 1 funding of $150,000 in May 2015. The $3.4 million for the second phase will be determined May 1, 2016.

Copyright 2016 WCSC. All rights reserved.