Criminal Justice Reform - Charleston SCEIRC Report

Criminal Justice Reform - Charleston SCEIRC Report

On June 9th, 2020, the City of Charleston created the Special Commission on Equity, Inclusion, and Racial Conciliation "focused on the creation of measurable outcomes, promotion of greater accountability, and coordination of community wide efforts to achieve racial equity in our community." 

In August, 2021, the SCEIRC released its recommendations.  The complete, official document can be found here.  In the interest of public consumption, we have translated the hard-to-read tables embedded in the report into bullet-pointed lists.  Each of the following areas of SCEIRC focus are outlined in separate posts:

This post is dedicated to Criminal Justice Reform and contains the stated Long-term goals, Objectives, Strategies, and Actions from the report.  

The report contains the following additional details for each Action: Performance Measures, Evaluation Tools, Lead Staff, Oversight, and Due Date.  Those have been omitted here for brevity.


LONG-TERM GOAL: Reimagine police services and building trusting relationships objectives.

OBJECTIVE:  Reimagine delivery of policing services to achieve unbiased policing, procedural justice, and racial conciliation. 

  • Strategy: Continuous assessment of policies and practices 
    • Actions:
      • Utilize the “Continuum on Becoming an Anti- Racist Multicultural Organization”
      • Apply Racial Equity Assessment tool framework in developing policies and practices.
      • Establish a permanent Commission on Equity, Inclusion and Racial Conciliation with a Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Subcommittee and provide necessary resources needed to accomplish its charge
  • Strategy: Continue implementation of the CNA Racial Bias Audit Report Recommendations
    • Actions:
      • Develop comprehensive plan for the implementation of the recommendations with emphasis on measuring elimination of racial disparities 
      • Update the 2020-2025 CPD Leadership Plan to include improved outcome and impact measures in areas including: Use of Force, Arrests, Citations, Training, and Community Policing 
      • Engage Independent third- party entity to evaluate implementation of the CAN Racial Bias Audit Report Recommendations 
  • Strategy: Examine CPD budget 
    • Action: Examine CPD budget for potential reallocation , savings, priorities and best practices in public safety and service delivery for example in areas of homelessness, addiction, mental health, victims’ services, school resource officers and re-entry. 
  • Strategy: Develop strategic partnerships 
    • Action: Work in collaboration with state, county, and other local law enforcement agencies to advocate for, develop and implement anti-racist policy and practices. For example, the Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council implementation of The Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative 
  • Strategy: Redefine Citizen Police Advisory Council 
    • Action: Redefine the role of CPAC. Review CPAC history, current guidelines including mission, composition, appointment process, authority, staffing. (See CPD Illumination Final Report and CPAC Subcommittee recommendations. 
  • Strategy: Improve department transparency 
    • Action: Increase transparency by enhanced public access to information (e.g., body worn camera footage, acquisition of military equipment) improve accessibility of information via social media and conducting quarterly Public Safety Listening sessions. 
  • Strategy: Support new legislation that will address public safety 
    • Action: Support passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act HR1280 


LONG-TERM GOAL: Eliminate municipal ordinances that have or could have the effect of promoting or enabling racial discrimination or inequity  

OBJECTIVE:  Identify current ordinances that are disparately applied to Charleston civilians; and propose new ordinances and current ordinance changes that encourage equity and fairness amongst all members of the community.

  • Strategy: Conduct systematic examination of how different racial and ethnic groups will likely be affected by a proposed action or decision
    • Action: Complete racial equity impact statements for proposed new ordinances and amendments related to Public Safety. 
  • Strategy: Collect data to determine disparate application 
    • Action: Determine a team (internally or externally such as SC4CJR) to perform a comprehensive data analysis system at the municipal court level for recent years so research and analysis may be conducted to determine whether there is disparate application of ordinances. 
  • Strategy: Require more police accountability 
    • Action: Develop and enhance ordinances that require police accountability. 
  • Strategy: Assess current ordinances 
    • Action:  Review and analyze current ordinances for inequity or unfairness. 
  • Strategy: Update existing technology 
    • Action: Replace the existing court software with a new case management system equipped to collect appropriate data, analyze for disparate impact, and provide public with more information. 


LONG-TERM GOAL: Ensure the Charleston Municipal Court operates as a third branch of city government which encompasses independent judiciary, acquire technology and raise level of trust objectives.  

OBJECTIVE:  Insure an independent judiciary in the City of Charleston 

  • Strategy: Restructure municipal court 
    • Action: Align administrative structure of court with City Ordinance Sections 20-1 et seq.: Remove Corporation counsel (prosecutor) from administrative responsibility over Court. 
  • Strategy: Establish new policies and procedures 
    • Action: Court personnel including Judge and Court Director shall establish all rules have sole authority to establish rules, regulations, schedules and budgets for the Court. 
  • Strategy: Implement anti-racism training 
    • Action: Selection and supervision of Court personnel by Judge and Court Director to insure anti-racism training of all staff 
  • Strategy: Update the current and outdated data management system 
    • Action: Use updated system to collect racial and other data required to assess disparity in treatment of African Americans and other marginalized people, and make data available to self- represented litigants and public. 
  • Strategy: Installation and use of e-filing court system 
    • Action: Develop an e-filing system for cases with public accessibility to pending cases, schedules and outcome of trials 
  • Strategy: Provide for the ability of court to track any differences in prosecutions between whites and non-white defendants 
    • Action: Acquire a new case management system with the capability of tracking charges and case outcomes by race 
  • Strategy: Provide a diverse judiciary 
    • Action: Establish a system of merit selection and retention of judges 
  • Strategy: Provide quality indigent defense services 
    • Action: Establish rules for qualifying for indigent defense services 
  • Strategy: Fully fund public defender services 
    • Action: Budget for full-time public defender services 
  • Strategy: Ensure written waiver of rights by pro se defendants  
    • Action: Judges shall inform defendants of right to counsel, trial by jury and right to cross examine witness in writing 
  • Strategy: Reduce trials in absence in criminal cases   
    • Action: Require follow-up by staff where notice of court dates are returned as “undelivered” 


The report contains the following introduction before listing the recommendations:

This report presents the initial recommendations of the Special Commission on Equity, Inclusion, and Racial Conciliation Subcommittee on Criminal Justice Reform based on work undertaken in the period October 5, 2020 through April 26, 2021. After reviewing the descriptions and directives outlined in the Commission framework document and after assessing time and resource constraints the Subcommittee identified three areas of focus: 1) Review of Municipal Ordinances 2) Implementation of the recommendations of the 2019 Racial Bias Audit of the Charleston Police Department 3) Reform of the Municipal Courts.

Racial disparities in elements of the criminal justice system have been documented in the Avery's “State of Racial Disparities in Charleston South Carolina 200-2015 Report” and the” Racial Bias Audit of the Charleston Police Department “(November 2018). Results of the Charleston Forum Survey 2020 indicated significant two to one Black/White differences in distrust of police officers and the judicial system. The work of this subcommittee has been focused on these realities.

The deliberations of the Subcommittee have been aided by the work of Charleston Police Department Director of Research and Procedural Justice, Wendy Stiver. Specifically, the One Year Annual Report on Racial Bias Audit Recommendations Implementation (February Draft) and the Final Report on the Illumination Project (February Draft) provided information on the status of Charleston Police Department reform efforts.
Important data was provided by the staff of the Municipal Court. In addition, ideas and concerns raised by CPAC, CAMJ, Charleston Black Lives Matter and the Charleston People’s Budget Coalition also informed our work.

Time constraints did not allow for full exploration of the intersection of our Subcommittee with 1) Internal Review Subcommittee in areas associated with recruitment, hiring, training and promotion; 2) Economic Empowerment and Housing and Mobility Subcommittees in areas associated with services to previously incarcerated persons; 3) Youth and Education Subcommittee in areas of Charleston Police Department initiatives and engagement with youth as recommended in the Racial Bias Audit.

The recommendations in this report are initial steps that can be taken to achieve the stated purpose of the Commission to dismantle systemic racism and rebuilding Charleston as an actively anti-racist government. To achieve this end additional time and resources must be invested in the work of the Commission to complete the tasks of data collection and analysis, research of best practices and to fully engage community stakeholders, organizations, and institutions in this transformational undertaking.


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