$2.25M grant awarded to address jail population, criminal justice reform

Charleston County received a $2.25 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to implement reforms to reduce the jail population and create a more effective local criminal justice system.

The foundation announced Tuesday that Charleston County’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is one of 11 jurisdictions in the country chosen to receive significant funding and access to expert technical assistance to implement a plan for reform over the next two years. In total, nearly $25 million was awarded.

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

The grant is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a national initiative supported by the Foundation with an initial $75 million to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.

In May, Charleston County was one of the 20 jurisdictions chosen by the foundation for initial grants and expert counsel to develop plans for reform. The council created the plan after devoting a year to analyzing data provided by local law enforcement, the 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office and other agencies.

Its findings detailed a system that disproportionately impacted blacks and other minorities and filled the jail with nonviolent offenders whom authorities said likely would have never fallen into a life of crime had they not suffered from substance abuse, mental health problems, homelessness or other social issues.

To address the disparities, the council will develop and provide law enforcement with a risk-based decision tool for a more uniform approach during decisions to arrest, employ mapping technology and work closely with neighborhood leaders, according to the foundation. In addition, the group will pilot an automated court reminder system to reduce the use of criminal bench warrants.

“The way we misuse and overuse 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,” said MacArthur Foundation President Julia Stasch. “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.”

Reach Melissa Boughton at 843-937-5594.