Straight Talk SC: Thinking outside the cell
South Carolina and the nation have a problem with the criminal justice system—the U.S. prison population soared over the past four decades, resulting in overcrowded prisons, devastated communities, and burdened tax payers.
In addition, the national news has been full of police shootings of unarmed citizens and the often violent reaction of communities and others. South Carolina communities have not erupted in recent years when this has occurred, and many believe that is because police departments have worked to build trusting relationships with their communities, said Jill Fuson, assistant director of the Riley Institute at Furman.
Straight Talk SC, an annual summer program hosted by the Riley Institute at Furman University and the Osher Lifelong Learn Institute at Furman, is spending four weeks looking at Crime and Punishment: Thinking Outside the Cell. Speakers will examine data about crime, imprisonment, and the impact of the justice system on communities. Discussions will cover the state’s law enforcement and prison system practices and highlight innovative programs that are being implemented in South Carolina.
“Over the years we have looked at various areas of discrepancies in our state,” said Fuson. “Criminal justice is an area in which people have not always been treated fairly, and we wanted look at ways the criminal justice system can change that. . . It hurts our economy. It hurts our communities,” she said. People with records often have difficulty finding jobs and communities and families can be devastated.
The series, moderated by Mark Quinn, director of member and public relations at The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina and former host of SCETV’s Big Picture, will cover the entire criminal justice system in South Carolina.
Topics include: Does the Punishment Fit the Crime? – July 21; Police, Prisons and Public Safety – July 28; Creative Justice by the Courts – Aug. 4; and Building Communities of Justice – Aug. 11
The first session will discuss why the broken system matters and whether it’s time for bipartisan reform of the prison system. Speakers include Heather Thompson, Ph.D., professor of history at the University of Michigan; S.C. Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, who serves as chair of the Sentencing Reform Oversight Committee; and S.C. Rep. Tommy Pope, speaker pro tem of the House.
The second session on July 28 will cover law enforcement, protecting and serving in challenging times and doing time in South Carolina – inside and beyond the prison cell. Speakers are Paton Blough, a Greenville resident who has been arrested and imprisoned because of actions related to his biopolar disorder; Rev. Darian Blue, pastor of Nicholtown Missionary Baptist Church; Sheriff Leon Lott, Richland County; Chief Greg Mullen, Charleston Police; and Glenn Smith, watchdog public service editor for the Charleston Post and Courier.
The second half of this session will include Stuart Andrews Jr., co-lead counsel with partner Dan Westbrook who successfully litigated against the S.C. Department of Corrections concerning its mental health system; Jerry Adger, director of the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services; and Bryan Stirling, director of the S.C. Department of Corrections.
The recent spate of police shootings and killings of unarmed people across the nation “will be a big part of the second session,” Fuson said. Lott and Mullen have worked hard to build trust with their communities and that could be seen in Charleston’s reaction to the killing of the nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by a 21-year-old white man.
The series will also highlight programs that have worked in South Carolina, reducing the number of prisoners in the state. Some of the innovative programs have kept people out of prison and save taxpayers millions of dollars.
During the third week, the series will focus on creative justice in the courts, including discussions that center on the BRIDGE Program, a rehabilitative justice and alternative sentencing program, and an adult drug court in the 13th Judicial District.
Speakers will include Judge Bruce Howe Hendricks, U.S. District Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina; William White, BRIDGE program graduate; Brent Metcalf, U.S. Probation Officer overseeing the BRIDGE program in Greenville; and Judge Charles Simmons Jr., Special Circuit Court Judge for the 13th Judicial Circuit and Judge for the 13th Circuit Adult Drug Court.
The final week of the series will focus on building communities of justice. Speakers include U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles, discussing the Drug Market Intervention program; Amy Burch, founder of Turning Leaf Project Laura Bogardus, who is researching the factors that separate job seekers from good jobs; Jerry Blassingame, CEO of Soteria Community Development Corp. and chair of the Greenville Reentry Coalition; Bruce Forbes, special projects manager, Community Economic Development Division of the Sunbelt Human Advancement Resources; Kirby Mitchell, senior litigation attorney at S.C. Legal Services’ Greenville Office; and Michele Sedney, senior director for recruitment, Johns Hopkins Health System.
The programs will be held July 21, July 28, Aug. 4 and Aug. 11 from 6:30-8:30 at Younts Conference Hall. The cost for the entire series for OLLI members is $35 and for non-members is $45. An individual session is $15. Register online.