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Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson joined with county officials and state lawmakers proposed legislation to call for sentencing enhancements for repeat offenders during a press conference on Monday, March 4, 2019 in downtown Charleston. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

State lawmakers, joined by city and county officials, on Monday heralded proposed legislation geared toward cracking down on violent repeat offenders.

If successful, the legislation would ensure that those who are found to have committed a violent offense while out on bail or their personal recognizance would be slapped with a penalty of five years behind bars in addition to the previously imposed sentence. The Senate bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Sandy Senn, R-Charleston, would increase the minimum bail amount from $25 to $200 (or 5 percent, whichever is greater), according to the bill text.

It was referred to the Committee on Banking and Insurance in January at the beginning of the legislative session.

Senn said during a press conference that the current structure "makes it too easy for the really bad people to get out of jail."

"My new bill would make it so you'd have to (pay) more money in order for you to get out," she said.

Pointing to data compiled by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said that, over the past three years, 279 defendants were rearrested for violent crimes after posting bond on their initial charge. Wilson said her solicitors are regularly moving for bond to be revoked, and judges are denying their motions more than 50 percent of the time. 

Appearing alongside Wilson and Senn at Monday's press conference were more than a dozen law enforcement and public safety officials who threw their weight behind the new effort: Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds, North Charleston Police Chiefs Reggie Burgess, Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon and Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg.

"The No. 1 job of local government is public safety, and these are tools local law enforcement needs in order to improve and provide public safety (and) to reduce the number of non-violent offenders that are clogging up our jails — to keep those spaces available for our violent offenders who have proven that, once they get out on the street will likely offend again," Tecklenburg said.

Also present and offering support was state Rep. Peter McCoy, who previously worked for Wilson before he was elected.

"What I think is very important ... is it's time for us to cut off the revolving door, (and) revolving door means this: people who completely and daily reoffend on violent crimes," he said.

Beyond supporting the potential legislative action to bolster the solicitor's efforts to hold repeat offenders accountable, Wilson laid out three other steps that would be done in-house:

  • More strictly enforcing bond conditions for violent repeat offenders.
  • Pretrial detention for high-risk dangerous offenders.
  • Providing more options for low-level or first-time offenders by making the expungement process and diversion programs easier to navigate.

"All of us are here today because we recognize the problems that we have here in the criminal justice system," Wilson said at the news conference. "The problem is with repeat offenders. Y'all know, you see it. And it's not just repeat offenders. It's repeat violent offenders, and so we all have resolved to shut the revolving jail door and to stop the bleeding."

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Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, along with Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, speak at a press conference discussing proposed legislation for sentencing enhancements for repeat offenders on Monday, March 4, 2019 in downtown Charleston. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Wilson also pointed to new ways of analyzing offender data so her office can more clearly identify patterns. As of Monday, solicitors have also started attending bond court sessions locally so that they are in a position to argue for tougher bond decisions if necessary.

"Where things are going awry is managing the behavior of defendants who are getting out on bond," Wilson said. "Most bond violations are, in fact, for bad behavior, not for failure to appear. The big thing is that if someone's going to fail, if they're going to reoffend, the data is showing us they're going to do it more than once. And that's a problem."

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Reach Michael Majchrowicz at 843-937-5591. Follow him on Twitter @mjmajchrowicz.

Michael Majchrowicz is a reporter covering crime and public safety. He previously wrote about courts for the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Massachusetts. A Hoosier native, he graduated from Indiana University with a degree in journalism.