The NCSL Blog

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By Amanda Essex

Criminal Justice Coordinating Councils (CJCCs), which bring together stakeholders to explore and respond to issues in the criminal justice system, are among the ways legislatures can engage with local governments to produce criminal justice reform.

Mitch Lucas, Assistant Sheriff, Charleston County (S.C.)Many CJCCs use data and structured planning to address issues in the justice system. These councils are intended to be permanent, rather than to address a problem or set of problems within a set time frame. Successful CJCCs need buy-ins from the key members of the justice system and those in positions of authority.

Over the next few weeks, read interviews from someone engaged with their local CJCC.

Mitch Lucas – Assistant Sheriff, Charleston County (S.C.)

What is your background and how did you end up being involved with your CJCC?

I have been in local law enforcement for over 35 years. I began my career in 1983 with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office and came to the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office in 1997. I was hired to be the public information officer, advanced to administrative major, then was promoted to chief deputy (and jail administrator). I served as the jail administrator for seven and one-half years, and then was promoted to assistant sheriff.

When and how was your CJCC created? What was the initial intent and/or goal of the council?

Our first attempt was over 10 years ago and did not have very much success for two reasons: lack of commitment from stakeholders and lack of funding. Then we heard about the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge. We resurrected the CJCC and everyone got excited at the thought that with funding we could make meaningful and badly needed changes to the local criminal justice system. Our stakeholders came together, fully committed, and we developed strategies that are going improve the criminal justice system from beginning to end.  

What are some of the specific goals and efforts of your CJCC?

Simply put, we want the local criminal justice system to be efficient, effective and equitable. I am pretty sure most people would look at the length of time it takes to move a case from arrest to trial would not say we have an efficient system. While that slow crawl to justice displays the system’s inefficiencies, it is also a factor in effectiveness. Additionally, if you look at a jail population and see a wildly disproportionate number of racial minorities, you have to question the equity of the entire system. Lady Justice is blindfolded for a reason.

How has your state legislature been involved with your CJCC? How can they support your work?

At this time our legislators have not been involved, but several have heard about the CJCC and are anxious for our success. [T]here are a number of state officials who are waiting to see the positive impact we make. When that occurs, I have no doubt that our work will bring positive changes to the South Carolina criminal justice system. The legislature will be critical to write better laws that effect the local criminal justice systems; additionally, state lawmakers could make funding available to implement the systemic changes. I am sure funding improvements to the criminal justice system will be considerably less than funding more jails and prisons.

What are some of the biggest successes of your CJCC’s work? What about the biggest challenges?

  • To begin with, and absolutely the most important, the commitment of all the stakeholders; every one of them are fully committed to our success.
  • Developing a data warehouse was the biggest challenge and after a lot of hard work is turning out to be one of our biggest successes. Bringing data from all the various entities related to our work has given us the opportunity to pinpoint problem areas. The ability to mine, analyze, or just simply report, data that proves or disproves what we think we know about our criminal justice system.
  • To have four major law enforcement agencies in the county develop cite and release protocols, rather than only having the option of putting someone in jail for a minor offense..
  • A court reminder system that calls, texts, or emails, court reminders to people with a court date. 
  • Case processing and management has proven to be difficult to change but is absolutely essential to our success. As we progress, we plan on redirecting some of our resources to this effort.
  • We have opened a crisis stabilization center for the mentally ill. Now cops can call the center and get advice on how to deal with a mentally ill person when they are on scene trying to determine what can be done, such as bringing the person to the center. Very soon the location will have a sobering facility. 

Who needs to be at the table?

Everyone! Every entity that is part of the local criminal justice system is a stakeholder and needs to treated as such. I say that because some entities like law enforcement agencies are tremendously affected, as are the public defenders and prosecutors. It goes without saying that mental health and substance abuse representation is a must. We have also found great workers and fans to serve in our community engagement functions. In fact, one of our biggest cheerleaders is the president of the NAACP, who says we are actually making changes, instead of just talking about what needs to be done.

Check out the National Network of Criminal Justice Coordinating Councils for more information on CJCCs.

Amanda Essex is a senior policy specialist in NCSL’s criminal justice program.

Email Amanda.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.