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County Council Meeting September 29

County to consider GPS for monitoring parolees, sex offenders and others
Warwick Jones, standing in for Shawn Keller who is on military duty in Iraq

The agenda for yesterday's Finance Meeting included a simple item, GPS monitoring - Discussion. But it was sufficient to draw two State senators to the meeting as well as a Charleston City Council member. The issue was whether the County should consider a GPS system to monitor the whereabouts of sex offenders, parolees, or others than carry court-imposed obligations. What prompted the inclusion of the item on this week's agenda we do not know, but from the discussion it could have been any one of three reasons -expediency with the new jail some 4 years or more from completion, cost savings, or compassion for some jail inmates.

Expediency reflected the fact that the present jail is over crowded and that completion of a new jail is over 4 years away. The delay in opening is due to the difficulty in relocating the SPCA facility which stands in the way of new construction. The jail had a rated capacity of 660 inmates. The County Administrator, Mr. Roland Windham said the number of inmates was steady for a year at about 1300 but has since crept up to 1350, with the upward trend likely to continue. Anything that could reduce the inmate population would be helpful, If those jailed for minor offences could be released but tagged with a special bracelet, their location at any time could be accurately determined by a GPS system. Their release would lessen then the pressure on the jail.

Unfortunately, the reduction in the jail population is likely to be modest. Many of those convicted of crimes - essentially non violent - are not serving time in the main jail but in the work release facility. Here there is no overcrowding pressure. The number of inmates in the main jail that could qualify for release and for monitoring amounts to only 65 and this was possibly a too high number as well according to Captain Mitch Lucas.

Cost savings was barely discussed but a briefing paper showed to us by one of the Senators pointed to substantial cost saving. In an example, it showed that the cost of housing 500 jail inmates was an estimated $11.3 million a year. The cost of monitoring was an estimated $5 million so the cost saving was projected at $6.3 million. Considering the number of inmates that would qualify for monitoring in the Charleston County jail, a cost saving of such magnitude is very unlikely. But notwithstanding, the GPS would allow for more efficiency, and relieve pressure on law enforcement staff. Law officers could instantly locate sex offenders and eliminate them from suspicion in any crime: they could easily monitor the location of parolees and better determine whether they are fulfilling court-imposed obligations.

But in a sense it was compassion that stirred members the most. Why were folk convicted of non-violent crimes, and in particular, the non-payment of child support, placed in jail? Placing victims in jail eliminated any hope for them to fulfill their obligations. Some members noted that the Family Courts had limited options in the arsenal for dealing with "dead beat dads", and jailing was the only option. There was also a tinge of questioning as to whether the Family Court judges were being reasonable in their actions.

City Council member Gilliard noted the very adverse impact of law enforcement officers arresting delinquent payers of child support in the workplace. He pointed to the stigmatization of these people and the usual loss of jobs. He was 100% for GPS monitoring, the likely reduction of the prison population and the opportunity for those convicted of minor crimes to have "a chance to do better".

Senators Ford and Knotts also spoke in a similar vein. They are both sponsors of a Bill to come before the State Senate that would lead to changes in the law relating to Family Courts and particularly to the jailing of child support delinquents. Both Senators spoke of the benefits of a GPS system and particularly in keeping watch on the whereabouts of sex offenders.

Council was moved by the discussion and agreed to ask staff to look further into GPS and other monitoring systems and return with some recommendations.

Staff to consider ways to increase minority participation
Another seemingly innocuous item on the agenda led to a wide and sometime intense discussion. The item - Procurement Source Selection - was an opportunity for the head of Procurement to talk about the procurement process. It was all straightforward and irreproachable. The discussion probably arose because of questioning at a meeting earlier this year about the low level of minority participation in obtaining contracts with the County. This subsequently led to the call for a Diversity study. This study should be delivered to Council within the next 2 months.

Council member Darby re-iterated his view that there was a need for much more minority participation and indeed, he would like to see the participation at all levels of employment and in procurement rise to the percentage level of minorities in the community - about 36%. Chairman Stavrinakis noted that there was no request before staff to implement such a policy. And as others pointed out, the attainment of such a high participation percentage was restrained by the fact that there were insignificant numbers of minorities from which to draw for certain qualified positions. In the procurement process, there were often few minority firms that qualified for the right to bid. However it was noted that some contracts issued by Procurement were being broken down into smaller components. This would allow minority owned firms, which are mainly small, to bid and meet less onerous bonding requirements.

Council member Darby said he did not was not asking for any hard and fast percentage number or anything like a quota. But he clearly was unsatisfied as to progress to date in increasing minority participation.

Chairman Stavrinakis ended the discussion when he suggested that Council member Darby was clearly trying to increase minority participation. So he suggested a motion that Staff is asked to consider ways that minorities - in the fullest definition to include women and handicapped - could participate more in County employment and procurement. All Council members supported this.

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