South Carolina’s “Republican” leaders have failed miserably when it comes to prioritizing the billions of dollars they spend on state government each year. Basically, these “conservatives” add a billion (or more) annually to the same alphabet soup maze of accountability-averse, results-challenged bureaucracies – never stopping to ask whether there is a smarter way of appropriating tax dollars.
Or whether they ought to be appropriating certain spending in the first place …
The result? Well … actually, there’s been a pervasive lack of results for citizens and taxpayers. Even as the annual state budget has soared to more than $31 billion a year.
The worst part of it all? While hundreds of millions of dollars are blown each year on non-essential items – including a wasteful and duplicative system of higher education – core functions of government like law enforcement are left to wither on the vine. Meanwhile, other core functions of government are either corruptly or incompetently administered – which is every bit as wasteful and injurious.
I bring this up by way of referencing a story I published earlier this month on South Carolina’s justice system – specifically its network of sixteen solicitors’ offices. As I have been investigating this system, I have uncovered a glaring lack of coordination between these offices – as well as significant divergence in terms of the resources brought to bear on prosecuting crimes in each circuit.
There is also a troubling lack of standardization in handling criminal charges which involve potential conflicts of interest …
On top of all that, I have discovered these offices are funded through inconsistent, politically entangled webs of federal, state, county and municipal revenue streams – exacerbating the aforementioned “divergence.”
While I continue to interview solicitors, their deputies and other sources familiar with this “uneven” system in the hopes of recommending enhancements and reforms, I have found one appropriation at the state level which ought to be approved immediately.
The request in question comes from the S.C. Commission on Prosecution Coordination (SCCPC) – and would devote $10.4 million toward the “development, management (and) support … of a database for the collection of statewide prosecution data” as well as the “acquisition, development, management, support and other expenses of CJIS-compliant prosecution case management systems.”
CJIS refers to the federal government’s Criminal Justice Information Services division – which was established in 1992 to “serve as the focal point and central repository for criminal justice information services” in the United States. CJIS certification is the gold standard for prosecutorial case management data.
Solicitors I spoke with said the establishment of a centralized, CJIS-compliant prosecution data system would create significant savings in solicitors’ offices across the state, improve prosecutorial accountability and enhance coordination between solicitors.
Assuming this data is made publicly available (and permanently preserved), I would concur with those assessments – especially seeing as such a system could be used to track the judicial outcomes generated by each circuit (i.e. the total number of convictions, pleas, diversions, dismissals, etc).
Getting a handle on this data – as well as untangling the budgets for each of these offices – will be critical in assessing the effectiveness of administering justice in the Palmetto State.
“Technology funding has been the top priority for four budget cycles,” an SCCPC funding request provided to this news outlet noted. “To date, none of the requested funding has been appropriated.”
If approved, the new system would “enable solicitors to collect information electronically from law enforcement, community partners and detention facilities, and to share this information electronically with other solicitors’ offices and criminal justice partners.” In other words, the system would provide “a central repository for the collection and reporting of statewide prosecution data.”
Anyone who has tried to navigate the current system knows how important such a streamlined upgrade would be …
The money SCCPC has asked for in the 2021-2022 state budget would cover the implementation of the program and its operating costs for up to three years. Unfortunately, neither the S.C. House of Representatives nor the S.C. Senate have chosen to fund the program … for four years running.
That is inexcusable … especially seeing as they have been funding this sort of political pork.
Let me be clear, people: This database is a definitional core function of government. It is a long-overdue attempt to bring criminal justice reporting in South Carolina out of photocopier era and into the 21st century. It should have been funded years ago, and the fact it wasn’t has made our state materially less safe.
More importantly, though, this shows exactly where lawmakers’ funding priorities lie … and where they don’t.
I have often described myself as a “cops and courts” libertarian – meaning I believe the liberties we enjoy require law enforcement support on the front end and a fair justice system on the back end. Neglecting those core functions is inexcusable under any circumstances. Neglecting them while subsidizing hundreds of millions of dollars of fluff? That is unconscionable.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children (including baby Matty, pictured above).
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