March 17, 2017

LC17: Criminal Justice Day

The Leadership Columbia Class of 2017 is a group of 58 emerging and existing leaders in the region, who are dedicated to bettering themselves and their community. The 10-month skills-building program provides an educational experience with a strong emphasis on social and community awareness, while challenging the candidates to step
out of their comfort zones and become involved in Columbia.

The Leadership Columbia Advisory Board, an alumni-based committee, organizes nine full-day class days, an orientation and a two-day retreat for the class. These class days focus on timely topics in our region ranging from economic development to criminal justice.

On Tuesday, March 14, current LC17 candidate Caroline Tracy wrote a post detailing her experience during the class’ Criminal Justice Day:

Our class members met at the Richland County Government Office for our Criminal Justice themed day of discussion and debate.  After our eight hours in the classroom with our expert panel speakers, my takeaways are: first, mental health is a crucial factor that directly correlates with crime, and second, we, as a community, need to be doing more to aid in the rehabilitation and restoration of those convicted of crime.

Caroline Tracy HeadshotOur first discussion with Dr. Leon Geter of Benedict College served as a brief overview of criminology and the criminal justice system. There are five major goals of the criminal justice system – deterrence, incapacitation, retribution, rehabilitation and restoration. All components of our criminal justice system – police, courts and corrections – must be working in sync to ensure these goals are met. The overarching theme throughout the day was that even though our system isn’t perfect it’s working pretty well. While it’s important that our system is functioning for those who pose a serious to threat society, the most important question posed was “What is happening in our jails and prisons to rehabilitate inmates?”  Because 95% of inmates have a sentence that will allow them to return home, we should be investing time and resources into rehabilitation, restoration and exit programs as well as seeking opportunities to assimilate those in our corrections facility into society instead of alienating them.

Next, we had the opportunity to hear from Sergeant McDaniels and a representative from the crime scene unit of Richland County Sherriff’s Department. They were able to explain details of cases, physical evidence collection, flaws of the system as well as strengths of the system. One of the strengths that our system has developed is the use of technology. The acceptance of DNA evidence in court has not only ruled out innocent victims, but has also exonerated 112 inmates on death row. In our ever advancing world we are exposed to the positive and negative aspects of using technology, but this was a win in particular for our judicial branches and departments. Future technological developments that will impact the system include the normalcy of “smart systems” in homes, such as the Amazon device named Alexa, which have the capabilities to provide details on records and accounts of incidents. To see and hear of the impact that cell phones and DNA have had on our justice system left many of us wondering how these conversations will look in five to ten years with the continual advancement of technology.

We then heard from Jack Swerling and Barney Giese regarding the prosecution of crime. Jay Richardson, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, shared with us the most emotional and applicable example you might be able to think of. He walked us through the prosecution of Dylann Roof, who is responsible for the Emmanuel AME massacre. This was not the only difficulty subject covered; we spent the remainder of the afternoon talking about sex trafficking in Richland County. Although these subjects are not commonly accepted and endorsed in everyday conversation, it is of the utmost importance to bring awareness to these issues as they are happening right here, inside the walls of our own community.  These conversations were hard. But it must be done. With such an array of talented professionals sharing their knowledge and experiences with us you would think that either these issues don’t exist or that they might be too far gone and there is no hope. One of the main objectives in the development of individuals in our Leadership Columbia class is to bring exposure and awareness to current and familiar issues right here in the Midlands. This was one of my motivating factors to join Leadership Columbia, and it is the charge that I will leave you with today. Captain Heidi Jackson summed it up perfectly, sharing her mantra from Alice Hoffman: “Once you know some things, you can’t unknow them. It’s a burden that can never be given away.”

How can we stop the cycle of crime, which is significantly influenced by poverty and addiction?  We, as a community, need to get involved. Don’t be scared of the dangerous, different and also messiness of what might be a lifestyle out of your comfort zone. Get involved with mentoring at young ages through organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, which can have a profound impact on our youth, their upbringing and their insight to other lifestyles and family dynamics. Spend some time with the inmates at CIU Prison Initiative and assist in other restorative programs. Invest in re-entry programs for inmates entering back into society. Work to promote mental health awareness and make this a common conversation in our community, not one that brings on an air of derogatory judgments. Be aware of your surroundings, as crime, abuse and neglect can be occurring right down your street, and report any findings to local law enforcement. Educate yourself on the presence of sex trafficking in the Midlands – South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force Annual Report 2016. The opportunities are endless – you just have to determine where you want to start.

Crime, all aspects of it, is related to the involvement and impact made by the community. The mental state behind a person is influenced in the very formative years by our community. The punishment and future of those convicted of crimes rests on the officials and laws that are in place by our community. The punishment, alienation and lack of opportunities thereafter is demanded by our community, and outside of that, our society as a whole.  The common thread that I see here, and that was further evidenced in our discussions, is that within our criminal justice system is the desperate need for strong societal and communal support. We must work together with our youth to prevent crime. We must work together with our offenders for retribution. And we must work together for future opportunities with rehabilitated inmates who offer the same and if not more experience and educational credentials than others in our workforce, but are not given the chance to prove themselves. We must work together, in unison, and with respect for the officials who are protecting us each day. After our discussions, it is evident that multiple agencies, non-profits and law enforcement divisions are working together for the greater good of our society. But where are we, the community?  What is our part in this process?

Justice is served. But is it really served when keeping a father away from his family?  Is it really served with fines, jail time and denial of employment?   Justice is defined as “a concern for peace and genuine respect for people.”  Are we doing that for all parts of our population in Richland and Lexington Counties and throughout the Midlands?  Whether the population is young, old, black, white, convicted, non-convicted – we need to come together out of love, respect and genuine concern for each other so that our community, our village, can raise the future generation, deter them from crime, help them to recognize other paths and opportunities, and ultimately show them the endless opportunities they can have on our society outside of a jail cell.

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