Charleston County awards $2.25M to cut jail population, improve justice system

Deputies respond to attempted jail break in Orangeburg County (Source: AP)
Deputies respond to attempted jail break in Orangeburg County (Source: AP)
Published: Apr. 13, 2016 at 1:59 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Charleston County is one of 11 jurisdictions across the country to receive a grant designed to reduce the jail population and create a more effective local criminal justice system.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced a $2.25 million grant to the county's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, in hopes reforms made will serve as a model for the nation.

"We are ecstatic and grateful the MacArthur Foundation chose to invest in our community and the enhancements to our criminal justice system," Criminal Justice Coordinating Council Chairman Mitch Lucas said.

Nearly $25 million in total was awarded to support plans to create "fairer, more effective local justice systems across the country," according to a release from the CJCC.

The goal is to reduce the jail population by 25 percent in the next three years, the CCJC says. The grant is a part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a national initiative supported by the Foundation with an initial $75 million to reduce over-incarceration.

That goal is reached, according to the release, by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.

"The way we misuse and over-use jails in this country takes an enormous toll on our social fabric and undermines the credibility of government action, with particularly dire consequences for communities of color," Julia Stasch, President of the MacArthur Foundation, said. "The thoughtful plans and demonstrable political will give us confidence that these jurisdictions will show that change is possible in even the most intractable justice-related challenges in cities, counties, and states across the country."

Charleston County was one of the 20 jurisdictions chosen by the Foundation last May for initial grants and expert counsel to develop plans for reform, the release states.

Nearly 200 jurisdictions in 45 states and territories applied for the grants.

CJCC leaders say the center will use the reward to create reforms addressing the main drivers of the county's jail population.

The reforms will include increased community engagement, refined policing practices, alternatives to jail for those suffering from mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness, improving the pretrial process and an emphasis on collecting and analyzing data to continue advancing progress and accountability.

"These strategies help us to better sort the high risk from the low risk, keeping dangerous people behind bars and providing law enforcement and the courts more appropriate options when dealing with low-risk offenders," Lucas said.

In addition, the CJCC will launch reform initiatives including:

  • Development of a triage service to provide alternatives to jail for those suffering from substance abuse, mental illness, and homelessness pre- and/or post booking.
  • Create a centralized data warehouse that will streamline information, regularly assess system performance, and assist in advancing progress.
  • Launch a risk-based pretrial management system to ensure the decision for pretrial release or detention is based on standardized assessments of risk and expedite indigence screening, improve access to counsel and reduce time to disposition.

The CCJC says people of color are overrepresented in Charleston County's jail population. African Americans are arrested nearly three times as often as Whites, their release states.

The CJCC plans to create and share with law enforcement "a risk-based decision tool for a more uniform approach during decisions to arrest," employ mapping technology, and work closely with neighborhood leaders.

The center also plans to pilot an automated court reminder system to reduce the use of criminal bench warrants.

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