By Barney Blakeney
For some it may be hard to accept that criminal justice reform efforts are making a lot of headway despite continued reports that inmate recidivism and jail populations are declining. So I asked Charleston Area Justice Ministry President Rev. Charles Heyward what the organization thinks about those recent reports.
A June report noted South Carolina parole and probation revocations for technical violations declined 46 percent between 2010 and 2015 and a more recent report noted Charleston County’s three-year-old Criminal Justice Coordinating Council initiatives that include various pretrial interventions have contributed to a drop in the inmate population at the Al Cannon Detention Center.
Heyward said CAJM’s focus has not been so much on preventive measures as police interactive policies and procedures over the past two years. The organization of some 28 local faith congregations that began in 2011 each year targets an area of criminal justice as its focus. That focus currently is police bias. Police departments in Charleston and North Charleston have been at the center of its focal point, he said.
Because CAJM, as an organization has not considered reports on recidivism, Heyward declined comment except to say the organization supports any effort to bring fairness to the criminal justice system. That fairness does not exist in America’s criminal justice system today, he said. At some point in the future he feels CAJM may undertake initiatives that target recidivism in criminal justice as a focus, Heyward said, but that can’t happen until its members make that decision through established processes.
For now, CAJM is focused on police bias in community interactions. North Charleston police have been assessed by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), but that report has not been released. CAJM, along with its partners who include the NAACP, the National Action network and others, is asking local elected officials to demand the report’s release.
Also, the City of Charleston is resisting CAJM’s call for a separate assessment of its police department. Heyward said Charleston has hired the Novak Consulting Group and Raftelis Financial Consultants to conduct a performance and efficiency audit of all city departments. CAJM wants Charleston to conduct an audit specifically for bias in the police department with a top rated police auditing firm that has the expertise necessary to produce a report that both the city and its constituents can trust.
The militarization of local police departments represents a grave concern for people of color, Heyward said. Issues about police bias in interactions with citizens currently will remain CAJM’S focus, he said.