Examining the Impacts of Arrest Deflection Strategies on Jail Reduction Efforts in Charleston, SC

Shannon Magnuson, Amy Dezember, Brian Lovins, Cherrell Green 

Reducing jail populations and the collateral consequences of the legal system requires jurisdictions to critically examine the practices bringing these populations through the criminal legal system’s front door. It requires implementing opportunities to reduce reliance on citation or arrest/booking, especially for populations with severe mental health disorders (SMHD), while also providing individuals the help and referrals they need to be well. Police-led deflection accomplishes both goals.

Deflection allows police discretion to replace arrest with outreach to community-based service providers. Importantly, deflection eliminates involvement in the legal system, allowing those who need more relevant interventions to avoid the additional weight and collateral consequences of arrest. Understanding how these programs work in practice and how police make decisions about who to triage out of the legal system is key to improving and expanding these programs, reducing jail populations, and helping individuals get the help they need.

The goal of this research is to understand how deflection of individuals with SMHD operates in Charleston County, SC. Specifically, in June 2017, the county opened the Tri-County Crisis Stabilization Center (TCSC) – a ten-bed, residential care facility for those with urgent psychiatric symptoms, and where individuals can stay up to 14 days. The TCSC serves as a primary resource for officers in the field who engage with residents in crisis and provides an alternative to arrest. The TCSC is open 24/7 allowing officers a true alternative to jail as the primary mechanism for treatment and support for these populations any time of day.

There are two primary research questions driving this work:

(1) How does deflection to the TCSC impact arrests for individuals with severe mental health diagnoses (SMHD) and jail reduction efforts, and

(2) How do police make decisions about who and when to deflect individuals to community services broadly and to the TCSC, specifically?