WALTERBORO, SC (August 3, 2021) – A program with a long history of helping troubled defendants become productive citizens in Beaufort County is now available in Colleton County, thanks in part to a $740,000 grant secured by the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office.
The Multidisciplinary Court program is an alternative to prison for non-violent offenders whose crimes are a result of chemical addiction or the effects of their military service, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The Solicitor’s Office has operated this program in Beaufort County since 2010 and now brings it to Colleton and Jasper counties after earning a three-year grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
“Prosecutors deal with two types of offenders – those who struggle with antisocial behavior and those who embrace it,” 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone notes. “The latter belong in prison, but there are better means of helping non-violent offenders with addiction or post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Our Multidisciplinary Court gives these defendants the structure and treatment they need, at far less expense than incarceration.”
S.C. Court of Appeals Judge H. Bruce Williams delivered the keynote address during Tuesday’s announcement at the Colleton County Courthouse. Williams served as the vice-chairman of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) from 2017 – 2019, and he is currently serving as the NADCP’s chairman. Williams wrote a letter of support for the Solicitor’s Office grant application to expand into Colleton and Jasper counties.
In its grant application, the Solicitor’s Office estimated that alcoholism or drug addiction is at the root of about 2,500 of the charges it prosecutes each year across the five-county circuit – or about half of its caseload. This number includes drug offenses, as well as burglaries and other acts that further the drug trade or allow the offender to feed their addiction.
Family Court Judge Gerald C. Smoak Jr. and Colleton County Probate Judge Ashley Amundson, both Walterboro residents, preside over Colleton County’s Multidisciplinary Court sessions. The first two defendants pleaded into the program in May.
Here’s how Multidisciplinary Court works:
Participants plead guilty to their offense in General Sessions Court, in front of a Circuit Court judge. However, their sentences are held in abeyance as they participate in the Multidisciplinary Court program. Although MDC is an alternative to prison, it is no free pass. Participants are carefully screened for eligibility and given an individualized plan that addresses the root of their criminal behavior.
Participants are required to:
- Undergo substance-abuse and/or mental health treatment. This often includes group therapy.
- Submit to random drug testing and unscheduled home visits.
- Pay restitution and perform community service.
- Report progress and answer questions from a judge at regularly scheduled court sessions.
Participants who, in the judge’s estimation, fail to follow the program’s rules can be sent to the county detention center until their next court session. If a participant continues to be non-compliant or is re-arrested, he or she is dropped from the program and the prison sentence immediately imposed.
The federal grant allowed the Solicitor’s Office to hire in-house substance-abuse counselors to treat participants in Colleton and Jasper counties. It also will make possible the hiring of a mental-health counselor to enhance the quality of services across all three counties.
“This grant is going to allow us to serve more people and to improve the quality of that service,” MDC Director Teresa Pye said. “Quality is an aspect that should not be overlooked. We’re thrilled to expand the into two additional counties, but expansion is only of service if we maintain a quality program.
“The additions we envision will help us continue to follow best practices for multidisciplinary courts and meet our own high expectations.”
About our new employee
The Solicitor’s Office hired Rebecca Dean as its in-house drug and alcohol counselor in January. She previously was program director and clinical supervisor for Recovery Concepts of Ridgeland. She has experience in family violence intervention, DUI courts and law enforcement. Dean is licensed and certified in three states as an addictions counselor and has both undergraduate and masters degrees in psychology from Argosy University. She is a former assistant police chief for the City of Solcomb, Ala.
The Solicitor’s Office is currently seeking a mental-health counselor for its program.
About our new judges
Judge Gerald C. Smoak Jr. was born in Walterboro in 1959 and is the son of longtime Circuit Court Judge Gerald C. Smoak Sr. He graduated in 1977 from John C. Calhoun Academy, now Colleton Prep Academy, then earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina in 1980. Smoak graduated from USC School of Law in 1983 and was a clerk for the Honorable William T. Howell from 1983 to 1984. He was in private practice from 1984 to 1995. Smoak also has served as the public defender for the city of Walterboro and as an assistant solicitor for the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office. He was elected Family Court Judge for the 14th Circuit by the S.C. General Assembly in 1995.
Ashley H. Amundson was born in 1978 in Raleigh, N.C. but later attended public schools in Colleton County. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of South Carolina with a B.S. in Business Administration, then earned her law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has worked as an assistant city attorney for Charlotte, N.C., and as an associate with the Walterboro firm of McLeod, Fraser & Cone. In 2010, Amundson was elected Colleton County probate judge.
About our new partners
In addition to Solicitor’s Office staff, the Multidisciplinary Court program relies on community partners for its success. Among those partners are:
Sheriff Buddy Hill and the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office, which is assisting with security and providing a location for random drug and alcohol testing.
Clerk of Court Rebecca Hill, whose office is providing workspace for Multidisciplinary Court counselors and courtroom space for weekly hearings.
Pillars4Hope, formerly the Colleton County Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, under the leadership of executive director Nikeyia Hammonds is providing a space for Multidisciplinary Court counseling sessions and will also provide some counseling services for participants.
Colleton County Veterans Affairs, under director Janet D. Smith, provides counseling services to participants in our Veterans Track.