South Carolina editorial roundup: Saturday, April 20, 2024


Post and Courier

April 15

S.C. alone gets this one totally wrong. Stop sending runaways to jail.

We've long known that the best way to transform someone who happened onto the bad side of the law into a violent criminal is to lock him up with violent criminals. It's only in the past few years that we in South Carolina started changing our sentencing laws to reflect that knowledge, but even when we were locking away far more people than we do today, it was hard to find anyone who wouldn't acknowledge that truth.

It shouldn't take a lot of thinking to realize that the problem is exponentially greater when we're taking impressionable young runaways and truants - kids whose brains aren't even fully developed - and locking them up with actual criminals, even murderers.

Yet as the S.C. Daily Gazette reports, long after the rest of the country stopped jailing kids for what are called status offenses, South Carolina stands alone, the only state that still jails children for doing things that wouldn't be a crime if they were older. Think skipping school, running away from home, playing pinball (seriously) and being declared "incorrigible."

No wonder we have such high crime rates compared to other states: We're literally sending kids to criminal school just because they skip regular school.

S.C. Juvenile Justice Director Eden Hendrick says not many kids get sent to her secure facility for skipping school - maybe five to 10 a year - but she gets 1,600 a year who ran away from home, committed other status infractions or were classified as "incorrigible," usually at the request of parents who don't know what else to do with them. Worse, she said, overcrowding and staff shortages at DJJ mean that too often these kids get locked up with others who committed violent crimes, up to and including murder.

That revelation created a dramatic moment during a recent Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, where Senate Republican Leader Shane Massey started asking whether Senate Democratic Leader Brad Hutto's bill to reduce the amount of time status offenders could be held in DJJ even went far enough.

"If you take some of those kids at that age and you put them in DJJ and they're housed with children who have actually committed crimes, where there are victims, the trauma that is going to ensue from that, and those kids, they're the easy targets at DJJ, right?" Sen. Massey asked. "I'm a little bit - I'm a lot concerned about … sending a fifth-grader or a sixth-grader to DJJ when they haven't hurt somebody. It's kind of traumatizing to me just thinking about that."

Unfortunately, the emerging consensus around the center couldn't overcome the disagreements at the ends. Between concerns by Sen. Richard Cash that a proposed amendment to S.266 went too far, reducing the punishment for some youths who commit actual crimes, and Sen. Gerald Malloy's efforts to expand the bill to a massive overhaul of the state's whole approach to juvenile justice, the legislation collapsed just short of the deadline for bills to pass either the Senate or the House in order for the other body to consider them this year without a super-majority vote.

Fortunately, there are about a million ways to get around that deadline, if legislative leaders want to. Clearly, the Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate want to; they can and should find a way to make it happen before the legislative session ends in less than a month.

Yes, we need to make systemic changes; as Sen. Massey rightly noted, kids who rise to the level of being incarcerated for status offenses clearly have problems; if we stop locking them up for status offenses - which he is correctly inclined to do - we've still got to come up with another way to address those problems.

But reducing the amount of time kids can be locked away for status offenses is progress, and as Ms. Hendrick said, S.266 is a good first step, which will result in a slight reduction in the number of kids she has to accommodate behind the fence. That in turn will allow her to do a better job with the rest of them. And it should be easy enough to remove provisions of the bill that affect kids who are actual criminals while still preserving the parts that everybody says they support.

Times and Democrat

April 13

Too many in S.C. being killed by moving vehicles

South Carolina is one of the most dangerous states in the nation for pedestrians, and fatality rates are only getting higher, particularly in Southern states.

Researchers at found that South Carolina is tied for third as the most dangerous state for pedestrians. With a death rate of 28 pedestrians per 100,000 population, the state is lower than only New Mexico and Florida, equal to Delaware and Louisiana, and ahead of Mississippi and Georgia, both in the top 10 for deaths.

The problem is not unique to South Carolina, which has had 36 pedestrian deaths through April 8 and annually has nearly 200. A 2023 study found that every day around the U.S., 20 people walk outside and end up being killed by a moving vehicle.

"There are more pedestrians being killed today than in decades," Russ Martin, senior director of policy and government relations at the Governors Highway Safety Association, told NPR.

The organization, which tracks pedestrian deaths in the U.S., estimates that more than 7,500 pedestrians were killed by drivers in 2022 - the highest number since 1981.

Unsafe infrastructure and the prevalence of SUVs, which tend to be more deadly to pedestrians than smaller vehicles, have been blamed. And the pandemic-era dangers on the road (more speeding and more impaired driving) translated also to pedestrians.

As to why Southern states tend to see more traffic deaths, the answers are not clear.

According to the NPR report, there are multiple theories: In bigger states, communities are more spread out, and as a result, people need to drive more to get around. Another possibility is that Southern states have better weather and people spend more time outside.

As to solutions, infrastructure is seen as important.

According to the NPR report, implementing sharp corners instead of round curves at the end of roads forces drivers to slow down to turn and therefore prevents speeding. That technique, along with adding pedestrian islands and large sidewalk bulb-outs, is known as "traffic calming."

Installing speeding and red light cameras can also be effective. Adding bike lanes can also keep drivers more alert on the road.

Drivers can reduce the carnage by slowing down and avoiding distractions.

The increase in cellphone use over the past decade "can be a significant source of distraction for all road users," according to a report by the GHSA, which is a nonprofit group representing U.S. highway and safety offices. Drivers as a whole also are paying less attention.

Pedestrians have a big obligation also. While impaired driving is often targeted in the highway safety discussion, too little focus is placed on impaired pedestrians.

Pedestrian responsibility is as much a key to saving lives as any single action. Beyond sobriety, pedestrians should know the law and how to remain safe.

There is equally the problem of lack of knowledge by roadway users of laws regarding pedestrians. Pedestrians are directed by law to use a sidewalk, shoulder of the roadway or, if neither is available, to walk as far on the edge of the roadway as possible. Pedestrians also should walk facing traffic.

While infrastructure changes are important, increased awareness and attention to safety by drivers and pedestrians can reverse the trend of more deaths.