Your June 26 article, “Report questions why blacks sent to prison more often than whites,” illustrates the complexity of criminal justice reform by showcasing South Carolina’s experience. Once committed to an ineffective tough-on-crime approach, South Carolina has recently begun to change its ways, realizing the flaws in this strategy.
South Carolina began truth in sentencing in the early 1990s and since that time the prison population has nearly quadrupled. The prison population now stands at almost 20,000, of which nearly 13,000 are African Americans. Reforms have included scaling back criminal penalties for certain offenses and addressing the crack-powder sentencing disparity.
The article addressed questions from stakeholders in our state on root causes of the imbalance and mentioned the state’s commitment to gain a better understanding. South Carolina has the fourth highest black/white prisoner ratio and is among 12 states in which more than half of state prisoners are black.
As a native South Carolinian, I am motivated to make the justice system fairer. The rate of incarceration among African Americans troubles me. I hope that it troubles everyone in our state, from the governor to prosecutors to family members of the incarcerated persons. We must work together to improve the system.
The report offers several recommendations including evaluating mandatory minimum sentences. Fortunately, state lawmakers may be ready to reconsider these penalties.
During the 2016 session, legislators considered HB 5120, a measure that would modify mandatory minimum requirements for no-parole sentences. Reintroducing this bill next session should be a priority for South Carolinians troubled by the recent report who want to work towards solutions.
Hearts For Inmates