Progress in local criminal justice reform helped land a new nearly $2.5 million grant for Charleston County.
The John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has renewed its funding of the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) as part of efforts to reduce the prison rate for nonviolent crimes.
Project Director Kristy Danford said the county has worked with the sheriff’s office to change many lesser crime arrests into tickets and a future court date. As a result, the county jail population is 18 percent smaller than it was when CJCC began in 2015.
“One of the first things we wanted to do was rethink (arrests),” she told South Carolina Radio Network. “Did we really need to bring all these folks to jail for single charge, low-level crimes where we also know we have high rates of racial disproportionality?”
The CJCC includes representatives from law enforcement, mental health treatment, and advocacy groups. It makes recommendations on methods to reduce incarceration rates for nonviolent offenders. Some of the changes since 2015 include an increase in citations rather than arrests for charges such as marijuana possession, text message reminders of upcoming court dates to cut down bench warrants and reopening the Tri-County Crisis Stabilization Center to handle mental health and substance abuse offenders.
The foundation has set aside nearly $5 million towards the program the past three years. Danford said the county wants to take the next step.
“Now that we have paved the way and we’ve got the infrastructure and we’re moving things forward, I think there’s a certain responsibility to look more towards how do we sustain this without the benefit of grant funding,” she said.