The following is an unedited statement from Kristin Graziano, a candidate for Charleston County Sheriff:
Candidate for Charleston County sheriff, Kristin Graziano, says that the March 5, 2020, Post and Courier article claims regarding the conditions at Charleston County’s juvenile detention facility are accurate and a result of a systemic problem that has been chronically occurring for decades.
According to the article, “for more than ten years the sheriff’s office has promised a new facility to replace the current one that was built in 1967.” Officials’ claims that “there will be a new facility opening in 2021” are misleading. According to the article, “in 2018 jail administrators promised to show attorneys for juvenile offenders the blueprints for the new facility, but they never followed through.” Their attempts at transparency are pacifying at best. Regardless of these “promises of a shiny new state of the art Juvenile Detention Facility,” officials are missing the point entirely. An appropriate and safe detention space was located during the last storm, and juveniles were transferred to this facility without incident. It seems to Graziano that a solution to an unsafe environment already exists. However, officials lack the desire or the initiative to explore more permanent options at the facility. Instead, we ask the county to throw more money ($16 million) at a new facility and expect a different result. Even if they break ground tomorrow, it would not be in time for one to open in August 2021.
Chief Deputy Willis Beatty says that the “new facility will open in August of 2021 and that the new facility will be fully funded.” There is no way for him to know that it will be fully funded because the 2021 budget is not yet available. The budget up through 2020 is publically available on the county’s website. There is no money in the 2020 budget allotted to build a new Juvenile Detention Facility. In fact, there is no line item for Juvenile Justice in the 2020 budget at all. There has not been any money allotted in the budget to Juvenile Justice going back as far as 2013.
A new facility does not address under staffing concerns, the excessive amount of time each day that children are held in their cells, the lack of class time while in custody, or the fact that programs are in place to rehabilitate juvenile offenders through Restorative Justice Programs. The sole purpose of the Department of Juvenile Justice is rehabilitation, always and without question. When you take a purely punitive approach with juveniles especially, research shows that you create lasting mental, emotional, and social damage. Additionally, research proves that a purely punitive approach ultimately creates recidivism because it creates a defeatist mentality and breeds repeat offenders. Graziano believes this punitive approach causes harm to these children and ultimately to our community. When responsible officials have control and legal responsibility over the children in this environment and choose to ignore the obvious conditions, or make excuses why it can’t change, it can be viewed as neglectful.
Chief Deputy Beatty says that there is no way to fix the issues at the current juvenile detention center. So long as they are not trying to fix the issues, Beatty is right, but something can and must be done about this. One of law enforcement’s functions is to investigate claims of neglect and abuse, deciding at that time whether to remove children from the care of parents who keep their children in conditions similar to those at the juvenile detention facility in Charleston County. A removal is often followed by criminal charges or court intervention against those parents for the abuse and neglect of their children. The courts, in cooperation with the Department of Social Services and other state programs, then put in place a plan for these families to remedy the issues and assist in providing services for the safe return of these children. I have never seen a child returned to a home where an investigation or inspection revealed unsafe, unsanitary, or hazardous conditions. Return of a child into those conditions would be contrary to the well-being of that child. I have, however, seen judges agree to placement of a child temporarily in the detention facility and order that a child be housed at an alternative location due to concerns over their safety. Annie Andrews, a passionate advocate for children and public defender, often addresses concerns for juvenile clients and has successfully raised these concerns with the courts.
“We cannot continue to do what we’ve done for decades and expect a different outcome.,” she said. Our investment should be focused on designing and implementing restorative justice programs that get our kids back in school, and back into their homes. If our excuse is “we can’t,” then we never will correct a broken failed system. If we don’t try, we’ll never know.
Kristin Graziano has proudly served in Law Enforcement for over 30 years. She is a leader with a passion for the people she serves as well as those she stands with in service. She is dedicated to providing exceptional, honest, accountable, and transparent law enforcement services to Charleston County as the next Charleston County sheriff.