Charleston County, SC—A national spotlight shines a local sheriff’s office for how they handle minor offenses. Prisons across the country are overcrowded, limiting law enforcement and costing you money in taxes.
Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post about how they are handling minor offenses differently.
Sheriff Cannon talked about their use of “cite and release.” This is the act of writing a ticket instead jail time for a minor offense. “We have procedures in place to distinguish between who ought to go to jail and who ought not to,” said Cannon.
Sheriff Cannon gave an example of a minor offense where a ticket is better than locking someone up—a mother who has been caught shoplifting groceries. Cannon wrote—“As a Sheriff, I know that if the encounter had taken place a few years ago, she would likely have gone to jail sending her and her children’s lives into an economic and emotional tailspin.”
He says now there are alternatives. “Over the years, we’ve gotten to a place where there are more non-traffic, minor offenses that can be written on a uniform traffic ticket,” said Cannon. “And then they would have an additional option to ‘cite and release’ them instead of taking them to jail.”
Those minor offenses are what fill up jails. “There are some people who can’t afford to get a bondsman…which could mean he loses his job and other things like that. Really, it’s giving officers greater options.”
Now, the officer has more discretion to do what he or she thinks best fits the crime. “The hope is that they will identify and make an analysis of the appropriateness of putting someone in jail,” said Cannon.
He says he does not think that this sends the message that these minor crimes are not important.
“No. I don’t think so because we’re doing that with traffic enforcement now so we’re obviously not sending the message there. That’s a part of the approach. The person still has to deal with that charge, but it gives them a little more time to prepare and it also avoids them going to jail right then.”
“Cite and release” is just one step in the process. They are also working on a triage center that would be an alternative to jail for people with addiction, mental illness or a combination of the two.
“Jail is not always the best option for police officer out there,” Cannon says. “And if we give them more options and they have the ability to determine that based on the circumstances that this person would be better served as would the community, by taking them to this alternative facility as opposed to jail then it’s more of a win-win situation”
There are eleven jails across the county that received a grant to do something similar to what they’re doing here.