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New Initiative May Help Reduce Prison Recidivism
7/27/2016 6:06:55 PM

By Barney Blakeney

Local officials this week offered assurances a new initiative that would reduce jail populations and more effectively assess who goes to jail will not return hardened criminals to their communities.

The Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is one of 11 jurisdictions across the nation to receive part of a $2.25 million grant to implement data-driven strategies that enhance the pre-trial process and provide alternatives to jail for low-level offenders with mental health and substance use disorders. The CJCC began its own initiative earlier this year with a goal of reducing the jail population by 25 percent over the next three years.

Joining the multi-jurisdiction initiative will provide more resources to implement the CJCC’s six strategies which include providing risk assessment tools that assist law enforcement in the decision to arrest for low-level offenses, provides alternatives to jail for individuals suffering from mental health and substance abuse, reducing the time it takes for cases to reach resolution and sharing information to better analyze and improve the local criminal justice system.

Charleston County Media Relations Coordinator Natalie Hauff said concerns that high-level offense violent criminals also might find their way back into communities through the initiatives is understandable.

“That’s precisely why we are implementing the pre-trial risk assessment. Our strategies are aimed at deferring individuals who are committing low-level offenses, who are chronic users of the jail suffering from mental health, behavioral or substance abuse issues and providing them with resources they need to break the cycle of incarceration,” she said. “By no means do we intend to allow high-risk and dangerous criminals out on our streets. We are committed to the public safety of our citizens while working to create a more effective criminal justice system.”

Charleston County Councilman Henry Darby said its equally important to provide resources to convicted offenders who may be released as part of the new initiatives. Some of those resources must be provided while the offenders still are incarcerated, he said. Intervention that allows offenders to get an education and learn work skills while imprisoned vastly increases their success after reintegration in their communities.

“We have to provide resources or they will reoffend,” Darby said. In addition to local and state government, community institutions such as churches also can play roles in the process, he said.

Charleston Sen. Marlon Kimpson said everyone makes mistakes and should be offered opportunities for redemption and to become productive citizens. We have to be smarter about criminal justice decisions - whether imprisonment makes more sense than using the $25,000 it takes annually to incarcerate an individual to rehabilitate and educate that individual, he said.

“Non-violent and drug offenders have problems that can be addressed with rehabilitation. Too many people are being supported by the state in our penal institutions when they can be with their families as productive members of the community. This new initiative makes economic sense,” he said.

Kimpson already has passed legislation that provides $150,000 for resources to offenders living in the Tri-County area and proposes additional funding for resources that help released offenders enter the workforce.

“Unemployment is one of the primary reasons for recidivism. It doesn’t make sense to keep building prisons to house people just because they can’t get a job,” he said.

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