Leadership Charleston: Crime & Justice Day

Written by Meg Grier, 2021 Leadership Charleston participant

The Leadership Charleston Class of 2021 recently spent a day deepening our knowledge about criminal justice in our community. The day consisted of facility tours in the morning and issue-focused conversations with local leaders in the afternoon.

Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center

The day began with a tour of the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston. Security Major Michael Halley, head of Resident Processing and Security, welcomed us and gave a brief history and overview of the facility before the tour began.

We were able to spend time in two different empty housing units where we saw the residents’ living and recreational space, including the area where they can participate in virtual visitation sessions with people outside the facility. We were also able to view the kitchen, laundry, infirmary, and other areas from the hallway.

Turning Leaf

Next we toured Turning Leaf, a local nonprofit organization that focuses on giving men a proven path to success after prison through group therapy, classroom sessions, counseling, and transitional employment. The organization begins reaching out to men approximately 90 days prior to their release date, and it can host about 12 participants at a time.

The program usually takes around four months to complete, during which participants learn social skills and techniques for conducting themselves when handling situations they are likely to face in daily life. Two of the program participants conducted a role play exercise to showcase specific skills they have learned and the steps they use to apply them.

In addition to classroom learning and counseling sessions, the men are given an employment opportunity with the in-house screen-printing shop. Not only does this enable participants to establish employment history, they also learn important disciplines such as being on time for their shift and staying on task during the workday. At the end of the program, participants are placed in jobs with local employers where they earn competitive wages and are given attractive benefits packages.

Only 22% of Turning Leaf graduates are re-arrested after completing the program, an impressively low percentage compared to the national average of 67% from similar programs. The success of this program has inspired expansion, and plans are in motion to open sites in Columbia and Greenville. By assisting these men with re-entry after their release, each site saves the community several hundred thousand dollars per year.

Community Policing and Public Safety

Police Chiefs Reggie Burgess of the North Charleston Police Department and Luther Reynolds of the City of Charleston Police Department kicked off the afternoon with a discussion on community policing and public safety. The conversation touched on racial injustice, calls to defund the police, and inequities in housing, education, employment, and transportation. Both Burgess and Reynolds acknowledged how complex these challenges are, but noted that they recognize the opportunity to find new solutions and bring meaningful, positive change to our communities.

Chief Burgess shared his passion for working in and with the community he grew up in, and stressed throughout the conversation that the improvements our community is looking for must start at home. Burgess and Reynolds both spoke to relationship building and the reduction of crime that comes with community involvement.

The Role of the Solicitor: A Discussion with Solicitor Wilson

Afterwards, we heard from Scarlett Wilson, Solicitor for Charleston and Berkeley Counties. She opened with an overview of her role including the types and volume of cases she’s seen as well as her staffing structure. She reminded the group that arrests can happen on probable cause, but to get in front of the Solicitor, it must be beyond a reasonable doubt. She touched on offering plea bargains vs. recommending sentences, and talked about items she considers when making decisions while walking us through some of the cases she’s dealt with.

The part of the conversation I found most intriguing was when Wilson shared some of the ways her teams are addressing racial equality and social injustice. She spoke of her staff’s diligent efforts to track case data, something they have been doing for years but has been especially helpful with recent research.

Data Driven Decision Making in the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council

Kristy Pierce Danford from the Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) joined us to explore how data that her organization analyzes is used in decision making to improve the criminal justice system, and ultimately the public safety and well-being of our community. The CJCC continues to focus on racial and ethnic disproportionality and/or disparity, assess jail use, and review successful practices in other jurisdictions.

The efforts of this collaboration help reduce the number of bookings and jail time in our community while making better use of resources. The data sheds light on solutions that will resolve relatively small issues that help a large amount of people, and keep them out of the system through diversion and deflection.

Re-entry and Criminal Justice Reform

We closed out the day with a panel discussion on re-entry and criminal justice reform that included Rev. David Truluck of Shield Ministries and Keith Smalls of My Community’s Keeper Mentor Group. Truluck and others at Shield Ministries work with men coming out of a detention center or substance abuse program as they transition back to life at home.

Smalls shares Truluck’s passion for helping these men after their release via My Community’s Keeper Mentor Group. As CEO of My Community’s Keeper Mentor Group, Smalls guides these men with encouragement, instilling values and sharing his life experiences, and he teaches a wide variety of skills that will enhance their quality of life.

Our day focused on crime and justice was incredibly informative, and it was inspiring to hear from several local leaders who have dedicated their lives to improving our community.


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