Innovations in Community Justice
By Stephen G. Birnie, Special to Stateline
In the last four years, the Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services collected and paid out more than $22 million to crime victims throughout the state. In the past Fiscal Year alone, over $6 million was collected and paid to crime victims in South Carolina.
Restitution is collected from the wages of offenders required to work as part of the conditions of their community supervision. This is the direct result of a forward-looking, victims-oriented law passed by the General Assembly giving the Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services the responsibility for the crime victim restitution process throughout South Carolina. This approach certainly sends a clear message to criminals: If you break the law in South Carolina, you will pay for it - literally.
We have a total of 460 Probation and Parole Agents located in every county in the state who are charged with enforcing all of the conditions of probation set by the Circuit Court and the conditions of parole set by the Board of Paroles and Pardons.
In South Carolina, we are striving to change the very nature and fabric of our work. Many theories regarding crime and punishment have been advanced over the years, and the criminal justice system has developed and implemented changes based on some of those theories. Although these changes have led to innovations, they seldom changed the basic nature of the business of criminal justice. What we are doing today is more than innovative, it is truly inventive and for South Carolina revolutionary! The new paradigm for our business is South Carolina is to balance the focus of our work to include greater focus upon the community and victim(s).
Our approach is simple, all communities are unique, each has different demographics, needs and problems. We strive to specifically tailor what we do to the needs of our local communities, through the creative energy, dedication and professionalism of our county probation and parole officers. Our goals in each of our county operations are to:
Develop community partnerships;
- Share information, and engage in joint problem solving with community leaders on crime and justice;
- Provide leadership in assisting in repairing the harm to the victim, their families and their communities;
- Hold offenders accountable; Providing offenders an opportunity to choose success and to understand the impact of their crime and its harm upon the victim, their families and the community;
- Help to foster safe and vital communities.
Towards these ends, we are striving to develop grass roots partnerships with businesses, industries, communities and faith based programs for both the crime victims, their families and offenders.
Our vision is to increase the opportunities for repairing the harm to communities through increasing the offender's ability to earn and learn. Through increased education, such as earning a GED, offenders will be more likely to secure gainful employment leading to their ability to pay taxes and restitution and provide for their families. Thus transforming offenders from tax burdens into tax-payers!
Addressing crime in South Carolina through creating opportunities for education and employment is just plain smart economics and good public policy.
In hard dollars and cents:
- An offender with a ninth grade education in South Carolina earns on average $14,000 per year;
- With a GED that same offender can earn over $17,000 per year.
- The average annual cost of a prison bed is $14,975, resulting in a net gain to taxpayers of $32,393 for every criminal offender who is in the community working and supporting him or herself.
We are developing partnerships with technical colleges, adult education, community, business and faith based groups to provide offenders every opportunity for success through educational and job training programs. Our Agents, through their contacts with business, community, faith and industry, are striving to locate jobs for offenders, even in these tough economic times.
"No amount of money can make a victim whole, but holding the offender accountable is an essential part of justice for the individual victim as well as the community," notes Laura Hudson of the South Carolina Victim Assistance Network. "Since the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services took control of the restitution process in SC, collections and services to crime victims have greatly increased. It is good public policy to require restitution in every criminal case, and it is very good public policy to provide opportunities for education and employment, thus increasing the possibility of the victim receiving justice and causing offenders to understand the impact that their actions have on individuals, their family, and the community".
In South Carolina, criminal justice agencies have made many adjustments to operations and philosophy to address the challenge of declining resources and to bolster public confidence in the justice system's commitment to public safety and its ability to continue to meet the many missions of individual criminal justice agencies. We will not waiver in the face of such daunting challenges. Indeed we seek the opportunities that lie in the midst of difficulty.
Accordingly, we are now actively engaged in the assessment of state of the art technology and associated strategies for the community based supervision of higher-risk, non-violent offenders sentenced to probation or released to parole. This new technology may allow the state to realize a significant return on its investment, not only in increased accountability over services, but in real dollars as well!
The return will be realized both in terms of efficiency in supervising the reintegration of non-violent offenders within our communities, and also in terms of putting cash back into the state's coffers. This strategy is called GPS (Global Positioning System), "Satellite Monitoring". We plan for the deployment of this 21st century capability in mid 2004 along with other technological innovations in mid 2004.
The bottom line is this, we are not only tough on crime in South Carolina, but we are smart on crime as well!
The writer is chief of staff of the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.