Some criminals struggle with anti-social behavior. Others embrace it.
Criminal-justice reform that does not recognize this difference – and treat each type of offender accordingly – will leave communities vulnerable, 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone told a panel of state lawmakers July 28.
The state should provide funding that allows even the poorest counties to treat low-level offenders in programs such as drug courts, Stone said. Research indicates these prison alternatives are effective and more cost-efficient than incarceration. By the same token, “When you look at sentence reform, you have to recognize that there is a population that quite frankly needs to go to prison,” Stone told the S.C. House of Representatives Equitable Justice System and Law Enforcement Reform Committee.
“I want to give everybody an opportunity,” Stone added, “but there are people that I deal with that need to go to prison and we need to treat those people seriously. If we don’t, we’re not giving balance to the criminal justice system.”
Stone was one of four panelists to appear before the committee Tuesday. He was joined by Fifth Circuit Solicitor Byron Gipson, Andrea Dennis of the University of Georgia School of Law and Seth Stoughton of the University of South Carolina School of Law.
House Speaker Jay Lucas (R-Darlington) created the committee in June to address ways to improve law-enforcement policies in the state. The action followed a high-profile, deadly interaction between law officers in Minneapolis, MN, and George Floyd, which ignited protests nationwide. The committee is co-chaired by Rep. Gary Simrill (R-York) and Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Richland).
Stone spoke for more than 46 minutes, laying out a comprehensive plan that closely followed a list of prescriptions first offered in his op-ed piece published by newspapers in South Carolina and Georgia.
Solicitor Stone’s statement to the committee begins at the 32:16 mark in the video below. You also can click here for a copy of the recommendations presented to lawmakers.
Stone’s plan includes provisions to require body-worn cameras for law-enforcement officers, a statewide reporting system to capture complaints and disciplinary actions against law-enforcement officers and a specific law against unnecessary use of force by police.
Stone also advocated truth in sentencing, urging lawmakers to require that all offenders sent to prison serve at least 85 percent of their time.
Bolstering his argument, Stone cited his prosecution of a former Hilton Head Island resident convicted of murder after racking up a lengthy criminal history. In September 2012, Tyrone Robinson instigated a running gun battle with two rivals. Eight-year-old Khalil Singleton, caught in the crossfire, was shot and killed by Robinson as he played in a relative’s yard.
Long before Singleton’s death, the community considered Robinson a menace, even though none of his 13 previous offenses were technically categorized as “violent.” His rap sheet included convictions for third-degree burglary, assault and battery, domestic violence, and discharging a firearm. Three times, Robinson was returned to prison after violating parole. Even so, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison but served only seven.
“He was dangerous and everybody knew it. The community knew it. The judge at sentencing knew it,” Stone told the committee. “Who didn’t know it? The state of South Carolina didn’t know it.”
That’s because state law is not focused on distinguishing offenders who struggle with anti-social behavior from those who embrace it, Stone said.
“I can assure you Tyrone Robinson was embracing,” he added.
Stone noted only those convicted of certain high-level crimes are currently required to serve 85 percent of their sentence – and those offenders have the lowest recidivism rate in the S.C. Department of Corrections.
“I think if we fund treatment courts, if we start recognizing that some of the people we are dealing with are struggling and we put the resources into that that we need to, I think we’ll reduce the number of people who actually go into our prisons,” Stone said. “But when they go into the prison, they all need to serve 85 percent of their sentence, period.”
Otherwise, “you’ll have a lot more Tyrone Robinsons and a lot more Khalil Singletons,” he concluded.