Alternative to traditional criminal court expands in SC

A South Carolina prosecutor is using a federal grant to expand a program that can let non-violent criminals who are veterans or addicted to drugs avoid prison.

The 14th Judicial Circuit’s Multidisciplinary Court program is expanding from Beaufort County into Colleton and Jasper counties, Solicitor Duffie Stone said in a statement.

The program allows veterans whose problems in military service like post traumatic stress disorder or people with drug problems to seek help. They have to plead guilty, but their sentences aren’t carried out unless they don’t complete the program, Stone said.

The people sent to Multidisciplinary Court after pleading guilty have to get drug addiction or mental health treatment, have random drug tests and home visits, pay restitution for their crimes and perform community service.

They also appear before one of the court’s judges regularly to report how they are doing and answer questions.

The expansion is being paid for through a $740,000 federal grant. In applying for the money, prosecutors said drugs are the root of about half of the 5,000 cases they deal with every year in the five-county circuit, when related crimes like burglaries are included.

The program is much less expensive than prison, but also gives people convicted of minor crimes a second chance, Stone said.

“Prosecutors deal with two types of offenders — those who struggle with antisocial behavior and those who embrace it,” Stone said. “The latter belong in prison, but there are better means of helping non-violent offenders.”

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