I have often referred to myself as a ‘cops and courts’ libertarian. Which means I think government should fairly and transparently administer and adjudicate a narrowly tailored code of laws … and not much else.
The preservation of life, liberty and property – and the resolution of disputes arising from incursions therein – is the primum mobile government.
Beyond that? Aside from prioritized infrastructure investments, market-based vouchers for education and a limited social safety net for the poor, the utility of government intervention eludes me. Certainly, taxpayer-funded entities should not engage in “economic development,” speculative real estate, cultural indoctrination, higher education, private sector competition or “making the world safe for democracy,” to name just a few.
But while it is worthwhile for us to continually assess the things government should – and shouldn’t – be doing (and fund those things accordingly), it is hard to imagine any of us disagreeing that our criminal justice system should be at or near the top of a list of core government functions.
“Cops and courts,” as I said. But also prosecutors … and prisons.
Correctional facilities are a critical component of protecting life, liberty and property … which means they must be funded and administered in a manner commensurate with their significance. It also means there must be transparency at every level – to ensure sentences are being carried out justly and humanely.
Is that happening in South Carolina?
A news release from Charleston County coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal regarding the preventable death of detention center inmate D’Angelo Brown three months ago raises troubling questions on that front.
According to O’Neal’s release (.pdf), Brown died on December 29, 2022 as a result of enteroaggregative escherichia (EAEC) coli sepsis with septic shock and “multiple organ system failure.” In other words, an untreated bacterial infection in Brown’s digestive system caused his body to shut down over a period of several weeks.
How horrific is that?
I do not know all the details surrounding Brown’s death, but O’Neal’s office has attributed it to “gross medical neglect” – and classified it as a homicide. Accordingly, agents of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) are investigating – as is Charleston County sheriff Kristin Graziano, whose deputies oversee the detention center.
“Based on the time the coroner dedicated to this case, her ruling on Mr. Brown’s death did not surprise me,” Graziano said in a statement. “SLED is investigating the possible criminal aspect of the case, and the Sheriff’s Office has been cooperating. Meanwhile, our own internal investigation remains underway. I have full confidence in my detention staff that concerns over Mr. Brown’s medical treatment and his needs were documented and referrals were made.”
(Click to view)
“We are continuing to work with the county through the procurement process to find a different health care provider,” Graziano added.
It sounds like Charleston County leaders should work harder …
A civil lawsuit (.pdf) filed earlier this month in the S.C. ninth judicial circuit alleged that deputies observed Brown’s deteriorating medical condition but “failed to intervene on his behalf.”
Excerpts from that lawsuit – as reported by Blair Sabol of WCSC TV 5 (CBS – Charleston, S.C.) – paint a horrific picture of Brown’s final weeks behind bars, including reports of him “smearing feces” on his cell wall and later “eating feces” after he was denied access to medical care (including prescriptions for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder).
“He had feces all in (his) teeth,” a report referenced in the lawsuit noted.
What in the world, people?
“Gross neglect” certainly comes to mind as it relates to the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center (ASGDC) in Richland County, a facility which is on the verge of a state takeover due to its repeated failure to address basic inmate needs.
Last month, this news outlet published a column from Columbia, S.C. attorney Alexandra “Ally” Benevento about the plight of inmates at this facility.
"Society must do a serious gut check on how it handles punishment and why," Benevento wrote. "Do we care about rehabilitation and deterrence or do we merely aim to incapacitate criminals and seek retribution for wrongs? On a micro level, the citizens and lawmakers of South Carolina must decide whether we can, in good conscience, continue to fill up our jails knowing the jails are woefully incapable of handling their most basic of responsibility – making sure the people in them stay alive."
Benevento's column made me think ... and it should make you think, too.
How should we handle punishment in this state?
Clearly you won't find a more strident voice than mine in the Palmetto State's marketplace of ideas when it comes to holding violent criminals accountable for their actions. And the same goes for holding the system accountable when it coddles these violent criminals at the expense of victims and at the expense of the safety of the public.
I am downright Hammurabian on that front, people.
I support the ultimate punishment (or worse) for horrific violent crimes, and I believe there are certain criminals - including Alex Murdaugh - who should be locked up for the rest of their natural days.
With the key thrown away ...
But correctional facilities should never be permitted to deteriorate to the point many of them have ... and inmates inside these facilities should never be subjected to the sort of inhumanities described in Brown's case. South Carolina can - and must - do better at every step of its criminal justice system, including once violent criminals have been taken off of the streets and placed in the care of our correctional institutions.
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.
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