On April 26-27, 2018, county leaders and experts from across the country came together in Charleston County, S.C., for a County Justice Peer Exchange hosted by NACo and supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge. Peer Exchange participants had the opportunity to learn about Charleston County’s efforts to improve its justice system and share their own counties’ successes and challenges.
Charleston County stakeholders opened the event by introducing the Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CCCJCC) and explaining how the council operates. The CCCJCC, made up of representatives from city and county government, local law enforcement, jail and court administration and community advocacy groups, created a four-year plan focused on using data-driven and collaborative initiatives to make Charleston County’s justice system efficient, effective and equitable. CCCJCC Director Kristy Danford and Assistant Sheriff and CCCJCC Chairman Mitch Lucas discussed how data was used to inform the diversion and health care continuum initiatives and strategies the council has enacted that have led to a 13 percent drop in Charleston County’s jail population. “None of the six strategies involve the jail, but the jail population is the measuring stick,” said Assistant Sheriff Mitch Lucas.
Participants then learned about how Charleston County identifies and treats justice-involved individuals with behavioral health needs. Jennifer Roberts, Director of the Charleston-Dorchester Mental Health Center and CCCJCC Co-Vice Chair, and the Charelston Center's Clinical Services Manager Jon Apgar presented on how the county has used Sequential Intercept Mapping to examine its mental health care continuum and pinpoint gaps in service provision and diversion for the justice involved population. The CCCJCC has stregthened and built upon Charleston County's long-standing behavioral healthcare continuum for the justice involved population. Charleston County provides mental health professionals in the county’s detention center, medication assisted treatment (MAT) for substance abuse disorders in jail, crisis intervention and clinical staff in local law enforcement agencies and mental health and drug specialty courts. Participants had the opportunity to discuss planning strategies and similar behavioral health initiatives in their own jurisdictions.
In a lunch discussion, participants had the opportunity to hear from Charleston Police Department’s Deputy Chief Naomi Broughton and Kristy Danford about the county’s efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disproportionality and disparities (REDD). County officials highlighted the gap between white and black booking numbers and the struggles the county had with trying to reduce it. Using data and analysis, Charleston County created Relative Rate Index (RRI) datasets to more accurately compare REDD numbers between white and black offenders in their booking system and examined potential RRI decision points in the justice system such as bond setting, case disposition and severity of punishment. Participants discussed possible solutions to addressing REDD such as providing direct services to minority communities and implementing implicit bias training in law enforcement agencies.
Participants then took a trip to visit the Tri-County Crisis Stabilization Center. Founded in 2017, the Center acts as a diversion point for law enforcement to bring individuals dealing with behavioral health and substance abuse issues. The center features a MAT clinic providing individuals with methadone dosing. There is also a room with sobering beds where law enforcement can bring in offenders under the influence of drugs and alcohol to sober up in a monitored environment rather than sending them to jail. There are also supportive, short-term living units for justice-involved individuals suffering from behavioral health issues. These residents have access to a safe environment and mental health professionals when dealing with a crisis. Many county leaders hoped to take what they observed in the Center back home to start similar projects to divert justice-involved individuals dealing with mental health issues and substance abuse from their jails.
On Friday, participants learned about Charleston County’s effort to implement pretrial risk assessments, services and counsel at first appearances in its court system. CCCJCC’s System Utilization Manager Christina Parnall, Public Defender Ashley Pennington and Chief Magistrate Leroy Linen discussed Charleston County’s pretrial process that involves using an actuarial risk assessment to help make decisions in bond court and providing defendants with clear information about the pretrial process and access to their public defender. The panel also discussed how Charleston County has moved towards setting bonds more appropriately based on risk assessments and how this can play a role in decreasing recidivism. Participants shared how their court systems in their jurisdictions differ and discussed how to engage judges and court administrators in using risk assessments when making bond decisions.
The Charleston County Justice Peer Exchange concluded with a presentation from Tim Dibble, Vice President of The Justice Management Institute, about ways counties can expedite case processing times. He highlighted how data analysis of case flow through court systems can reduce pretrial wait times resulting in a reduced jail population. Dibble shared examples of court systems that have implemented case management systems, including Charleston County, and the methods they used in order to increase efficiency. Participants discussed ways to implement court management analysis by leveraging resources and collaborating with court administrators and judges.
Peer exchanges offer an opportunity for participants to learn about what other counties are successfully implementing in their justice systems and to consider ways those lessons and programs can be applied in their own communities. Stay tuned for future NACo peer exchanges.
This Peer Exchange and blog post were supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, which seeks to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.