- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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June 25

The Post and Courier of Charleston on prison reforms:

Why should we care about what happens in South Carolina prisons? Because 87 percent of inmates will be freed in five years.



And that’s a short time for turning around an individual - or a 21-prison corrections system with roughly 19,000 inmates and more than 5,000 employees. But it is happening.

When prisons chief Bryan Stirling took on the Herculean job in 2013, he inherited a Department of Corrections starved of funding since the Great Recession. He realized “we were losing officers left and right.” But turning the tide on retention and recruitment took years.

Now, the overall number of correctional officers is rising, pay is more competitive and the agency is on pace to fill several hundred more authorized positions. Average starting pay for guards is now more than $33,000, up a whopping 28 percent from 2016, and average pay for veteran officers is about $42,000 per year.

Mr. Stirling, formerly chief of staff to ex-Gov. Nikki Haley and deputy attorney general before that, is also making progress on dozens of other initiatives big and small since the April 15 outbreak of violence at Lee prison in Bishopville left seven inmates dead and 22 others badly hurt.

Last week, 48 gang “shot-callers” from various prisons, including Lee, were sent to a private prison in Mississippi, and lockdowns in place since the rioting are being lifted.

Drones are being used to keep watch over prison grounds. Netting is preventing contraband from being thrown over fences. Broken locks on cell doors and dorms are being repaired. A system for blocking illicit cellphone calls is being tested. Emergency response times are being cut and riot squads beefed-up.

Spending per inmate is up. Prisoners are getting better mental and physical health care - a telemedicine program is cutting costs - more addiction treatment, more job training and education and more “re-entry” programs that include everything from getting driver’s licenses to housing.

Guards are being offered several bonuses from $250-$750, expanded overtime, free boots and new uniforms. Policies against tattoos, facial hair and fingernails are being relaxed, as are some restrictions for hiring relatives of inmates.

“It’s amazing how little things matter,” Mr. Stirling said, adding he tries to bring ice cream or doughnuts for guards whenever he visits a prison, which is often. “I like to see things for myself.”

Surprisingly, he has few complaints. Getting permission to move ahead with important reforms takes too long, he says, but the emergency order issued after the rioting at Lee helped jumpstart efforts that “had been in the pipeline for a long time,” and the Legislature is speeding up its approval processes.

Lawmakers are expected to introduce an extensive list of “front end” sentencing reforms as well as “back end” rehabilitation reforms when they reconvene in January.

The state’s long-neglected prison system is far from being fixed, but Mr. Stirling is making real progress. He deserves the support, funding and patience needed in order to turn out inmates with a better shot at becoming productive citizens, to provide a safe environment and workplace, and to continue to reduce recidivism and the overall prison population.

Stay the course.

Online: https://www.postandcourier.com

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June 24

The Greenville News on how deputies’ fatally shooting a man shows a need for more training about suspects suffering from mental illness:

It is impossible to watch the video of Jermaine Massey’s shooting by Greenville County Sheriff’s deputies and not feel compassion for everyone involved.

Massey was clearly in emotional distress when he called sheriff’s deputies to his Greenville home in March, fearful that he might hurt himself or family members. What followed was a tense standoff between Massey - who refused to drop a knife he was holding - and deputies urging him to surrender the weapon.

After what seemed like an eternity, Massey was shot to death when he lunged toward one of the deputies. After an internal investigation and an investigation by the state’s top law enforcement division, the officers were cleared of any wrongdoing.

The tragedy underscores the need for more training of law enforcement officers in how to deal with suspects suffering from mental illness.

The four deputies involved in the shooting had not taken Crisis Intervention Team training, which is provided by the National Alliance of Mental Illness, according to a report by Daniel Gross of The Greenville News. CIT training is an extensive week-long class that helps officers recognize the signs of mental illness and gives them strategies to deal with suspects suffering from mental health issues. It is offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Though we’ll never know for certain, local mental health advocate Paton Blough believes the outcome may have been different if the officers involved had taken the 40-hour course. Blough is encouraged that the Greenville County Sheriff’s Department has two classes scheduled in the coming months for deputies. One of the classes had been scheduled prior to Massey’s death, he said.

Blough has seen the videotape of the shooting and believes the officers did the best they could under the circumstances. He said officers receive limited training in the police academy on dealing with mentally ill suspects.

During CIT training, officers learn to slow down - if possible - when dealing with a mentally ill suspect. By deploying tasers in Massey’s direction, the standoff was escalated. Officers learn ways to de-escalate their interaction with suspects in CIT classes. They are also encouraged to redirect the suspect’s attention away from the standoff and on to other things, such as relationships with family members.

“You can never 100 percent say what would have happened,” said Blough. “But I feel fairly strongly there could have been a different outcome had those officers received the training.”

Interim Greenville County Sheriff Johnny Mack Brown seems committed to ensuring that more deputies receive the training, said Blough.

Further, Sheriff’s Brown’s release of the video of the shooting shows his commitment to running a department that is transparent in its dealings with the public. While the video is difficult to watch, the deputies can be seen behaving in a professional manner, urging the suspect to drop his weapon and attempting to use a taser gun to temporarily disable Massey.

Sometimes, it takes a tragic incident to bring about change. If we learn anything from Massey’s death, it is that police officers need all the training they can get when it comes to interacting with suspects suffering from mental illness. Such training will give officers more confidence to take on the difficult jobs they do daily.

Online: https://www.greenvilleonline.com/

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June 26

The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg on leaving children and pets in cars during hot weather:

The days are long and the temperatures are hot. And, again, the unthinkable has happened.

An Aiken County father faces five counts of child neglect after leaving his five young children in a hot car at a Walmart. All are under age 10 - and thankfully they will be OK.

Media reports indicate Aiken County Department of Public Safety officers responded to a call about the children being in the car on a day when the temperature was near 90. The children could have died - as did 43 other kids across the United States in 2017.

When it’s 85 degrees out, the temperature inside a car, even with the windows left slightly open, can soar to 102 degrees in 10 minutes, and can reach 120 in just half an hour. If that doesn’t tell you why a child or a pet cannot be left inside a vehicle even for short periods, we don’t know why not.

Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children. Young children are particularly at risk, as their bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult’s. When a child’s internal temperature gets to 104 degrees, major organs begin to shut down. And when a child’s temperature reaches 107 degrees, the child can die.

Symptoms can quickly progress from flushed, dry skin and vomiting to seizures, organ failure and death. These tragedies are completely preventable. Safe Kids Worldwide is helping educate about how everyone can work together to keep kids safe from heatstroke using the acronym ACT.

A: Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked when you’re not in it so kids don’t get in on their own.

C: Create reminders by putting something in the back of your car next to your child such as a briefcase, a purse or a cell phone that is needed at your final destination. This is especially important if you’re not following your normal routine.

T: Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Emergency personnel want you to call. They are trained to respond to these situations. One call could save a life.

While leaving a child alone at all poses other issues, and forgetting that a child is in a car is as inexcusable as it is unimaginable, the more frequent occurrences that are not often the subject of news stories are people leaving pets.

The Humane Society of the United States advises that a pet can quickly suffer brain damage or die from heatstroke when trapped in high temperatures. Pets aren’t able to dispel heat as well as humans. Depending on how thick the animal’s fur is, it can be like a human sitting in a hot car with a winter coat on.

Most people think they’re taking appropriate precautions when they park in the shade and crack the windows so pets can get fresh air. They take their pets with them in the car because they love them and enjoy their companionship and are devastated on their return to find their pets in extreme stress or, even worse, dead.

Again, the deaths are entirely preventable. People must be aware of how quickly closed, unattended cars or trucks can become stifling death traps - and be responsible.

It’s hot and will get even hotter. Temperatures soar into the 90s and above daily. Heat index figures are in triple digits.

People slow down somewhat, but traveling remains a necessity. Children and pets often accompany drivers.

It’s time to renew a note of caution.

Online: https://thetandd.com/

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