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Recommendations to the South Carolina Sentencing Reform Commission

By Edna Morris,2014-05-16 21:58
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20 Jul 2009WE recommend a SWOT analysis be performed by a qualified individual. (SWOT Analysis is a strategic planning method used to evaluate the

    South Carolina Re-Entry Initiative’s Recommendations to the South Carolina Sentencing

    Reform Commission

    July 20, 2009

The Sentencing Reform Commission (SRC) should promote the reduction of recidivism as one of its

    primary goals, utilizing evidence base practices. The pressing concerns are justice, public safety, fiscal

    responsibility, and sustainability of programs already in place in addition to those that will need to be

    instituted. Recent studies show there is an exponential public safety cost for not addressing issues that

    lead people into crime. Presently, there is an unacceptably high failure rate for individuals who come

    through the criminal justice system. An achievable goal is to reduce the rate of failure by providing

    rehabilitative services for motivated inmates, with a greater emphasis on community partnerships.

The following recommendations are submitted by the South Carolina Re-Entry Initiative (SCRI) as

    important steps for the reform of the South Carolina criminal justice system:

Sentencing Reform Commission

    1. We recommend the SRC become a permanent commission whose role would be to evaluate

    criminal justice policies at the legislative level. The commission should represent the best

    informed elements of the criminal justice system including victims, judges, prosecutors, defenders,

    law enforcement, corrections, probation, social scientists and legislators.

    2. The SRC should require all proposals address the anticipated fiscal impact, including a detailed

    cost-benefit analysis. We recommend the commission seek only “evidence based” best practices in

    the fields of sentencing, alternatives to incarceration and pre-release preparation.

    3. SCRI recommends the SRC study the components of the system on a regular basis to determine

    whether or not we are achieving our goals based on established social science study methods. All

    programs should be evaluated by analyzing traceable, meaningful data.

Sentencing Guidelines and Alternatives to Incarceration

    4. Restore judges’ discretion to fit the punishment to the individual. Judges not legislators,

    prosecutors or defense attorneys should determine appropriate sentences based on the facts of

    each case they consider. To insure a judge’s decision will meet standards for appropriate

    punishment, the defendant can utilize his or her appeal rights. This safeguard and sentencing

    guidelines prevent judges from delivering inappropriate sentences.

    5. Sentencing guidelines and practices should be changed and/or established so the judge who renders

    the sentence will state the range between which the defendant would be first eligible for max out

    and his ultimate sentence completion date. Suggest the Sentencing Guidelines be available

    electronically in the courtroom.

    6. Eliminate of mandatory minimums for drug offenses, driving under suspension and burglary in the st1 degree. An alternative is to allow judges to do split sentences which suspends the mandatory

    portion and imposes a lesser active sentence and probation. Another alternative is to allow safety

    valves or exceptions to mandatory minimums for defendants whose conduct is less aggravated. An

    example would be for a defendant who has no prior record. Another example would be for a

    defendant in an armed robbery case who is not using a working firearm.

    7. Develop a risk assessment tool designed to accurately reflect both aggravating and mitigating

    factors, e.g., being employed, paying child support (if applicable), student in good standing, etc.

    8. Use “smart-on-crime” approaches. Recommend sentencing alternatives such as substance abuse

    treatment, drug court supervision, probation, and community correctional programs as well as

    incarceration; expand community corrections with additional mental health, drug, and “check”

    courts.

    9. Eliminate simple possession of marijuana as a prior offense in the drug enhancement scheme. It is

    irrational to use simple possession of marijuana as a predicate to increase the punishments for

    distribution and trafficking offenses.

    10. Eliminate incarcerating the mentally ill in prisons not equipped to handle this population. Provide

    alternative solutions by working closely with established state agencies to address alternatives to

    incarceration.

    11. Make the Two Strike - Life without Parole law discretionary based upon the solicitor’s

    determination that it is truly warranted with the individual defendant rather than automatic and

    mandatory.

    12. Eliminate the suspension of drivers’ licenses in drug cases. This law has actually increased crime

    in South Carolina by inhibiting the ability of those convicted of drug offenses from going to work

    at lawful employment.

    13. Restore the restitution centers with tighter controls over behavior and with a requirement of

    services at night which would detect and reduce addiction and provide better preparation for

    release. We also recommend an increased reliance on work release, both as an alternative to

    imprisonment and as a vehicle for preparation for release from prison.

    14. Enlarge the population that is eligible for placement in drug courts and mental health courts.

    Presently violent offenders are disqualified even thought they may be highly likely to benefit from

    the services. At the same time it may be necessary to beef up the strict enforcement of behavioral

    norms in the drug and mental health courts so that a violent offender who is not conforming could

    easily be sentenced and sent to prison.

    15. Clearer classification of crime, e.g., redefine “violent” to reflect actual, rather than technical,

    violence of a given offense.

Probation, Parole, & Pardon (PPP), and the South Carolina Department of Corrections

    (SCDOC)

    16. A Re-Entry Task Force should be developed, Second Chance Act (SCA) monies actively sought,

    and a plan made to analyze the statutory, regulatory, rules-based, and evidence-based hurdles to

    reintegrate offenders into the community.

    a. Example: SCDC can more fully engage the Employment Security-One-Stop

    Employment centers and SC Department of Vocational Rehabilitation for inmates.

    (Second Chance Act and Re-Entry Task Force Requirements attached). Preparation for

    re-entry should begin the first day of incarceration;

    b. SCDC should explore new and dramatic ways to promote community mentoring by pro-

    social community groups before release and at the time of release from prison;

    c. An evidence-based Character Education program should be a part of the re-entry plan;

    and

    d. Designated meeting places should exist in all correctional facilities for approved

    programs

    17. Preserve good time to reward good conduct, employment and education by inmates.

    18. Promote the concept of “earned redemption,” in which defendants and inmates have the

    opportunity to seek programming to prepare them for employment, pro-social lifestyle changes,

    and service to the community. Studies have established that employment reduces recidivism.

    Adopting pro-social peer groups such as church activities and substance abuse addiction treatment

therapies are also accepted means of reducing recidivism. All parts of the system should look to

    these as important elements of rehabilitation.

    19. SCDC should set as a goal the reduction of the prison population substantially so a prison can be

    closed and/or converted. The dollars can then be spent on personnel and fixed costs at the

    converted prison or other prisons for the necessary treatment services to reduce drug addiction and

    to foster employment by those preparing for release, or to establish additional pre-release centers

    that work in collaboration with the community. SCDC could release an inmate twelve months

    ahead of the formal release date into a community corrections status that is simply a form of early

    parole supervision. In order for this to occur without jeopardizing public safety, prison officials

    would have to use action research to develop and implement a risk instrument to guide them in the

    targeting of eligible prisoners and help them monitor the early released prisoners.

    20. Establish or partner with the community Transitional Living Centers for exiting inmates who do

    not have a place to live once released, or the environment they would return to does not meet with

    PPP’s guidelines as an accepted domicile. Particular emphasis should be on serious and violent

    offenders, as well as sex offenders. Current community restrictions should be re-visited at the state

    level, in addition to local ordnances.

    21. Overhaul Information Systems and databases for Criminal Justice, Law Enforcement, PPP, DOC,

    and all applicable agencies, thereby creating a seamless sharing of information. Examples follow:

    a. Upon completion of the court ordered sentencing terms (local, state or federal; max out,

    probation or parole), immediate notification should be sent to all applicable agencies

    that the terms of the court order have been met, particularly local law enforcement and

    PPP. Note: Sometimes upon completion of court ordered sentences, ex-offenders have

    been re-arrested and detained on the same charge, wasting man-hours and contributing

    to prison overcrowding by re-arresting those who have already successfully completed

    their sentence; and

    b. Provide inmate or former inmate with official documentation that can be used for

    verification of completion of sentence and/or sanctions.

    22. Better coordinate communication between SCDC and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)

    must be established. It is essential that the State provide South Carolina ID cards for inmates prior

    to release. We are not prepared to take the steps necessary to comply with the Real ID Act (once

    instituted) and make certain that inmates are released with the credentials necessary to go to work

    or find housing. If SCDC can’t positively identify whom we have locked up in our prisons and

    jails we have a big problem.

    23. Study PPP to ascertain its strengths and weaknesses. WE recommend a SWOT analysis be

    performed by a qualified individual. (SWOT Analysis is a strategic planning method used to

    evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or in a

    business venture.) Re-entry supervision and assistance should be seen as a core mission for parole.

    24. Strengthen the relationships between PPP and community-based agencies and organizations,

    including faith-based organizations. The agencies, groups, and organizations must utilize

    evidence-based practices to achieve a quantifiable reduction in recidivism.

    25. Modify the parole guidelines to take into account the fact that female prisoners require less security

    than male prisoners and are at less risk for parole. The new guidelines would also place greater

    emphasis on the participation of prisoners in rehabilitative programs shown to suppress criminal

    behavior.

    Thank you for the opportunity to have our voices heard. Currently SCRI is establishing partnerships with other like-minded people across the state. WE ARE a comprehensive network of agencies, service providers, law enforcement, judicial & legal entities, faith-based organizations and many others across the state, united by the use of technology to accomplish our goal of safer communities and a better return on our tax dollars. This is an exciting and historic time in which we live and we appreciate the opportunity to be a part.

Respectfully,

    South Carolina Re-Entry Initiative (SCRI)

    Jeanne Murray, Chair

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