Thank you, Representative Newton and members of the committee. It’s an honor to be here today speaking on this issue.
I am Carlos Phillips, President and CEO of the Greenville Chamber and I’m here speaking today on behalf of my chamber and the Metro Chambers Coalition – an association of our Chamber, the Columbia Chamber, the Charleston Chamber, the Myrtle Beach Chamber, and the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. Our chambers began working closely together on issues important to our growing areas a number of years ago, and one of the first issues we tackled in 2017 was record expungement and sentencing reform.
This summer, we were all startled by the incidents and related reactions as a result of the violent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, but they unfortunately are only the most recent of many similar tragedies that have transpired in our country over the past 400 years.
It is time for our state to again prioritize and expand the dialogue on matters that will make life better for all of our residents. To bring about real and lasting change and economic prosperity to all our neighbors, our communities must be safe, thriving, and equitable. And with this base, we can continue our work to correct disparities in education, health, and income. Our Chambers believe – as do the businesses we represent in our communities – that these reforms are good for jobs, good for economic development, and good for the bottom line.
A recent survey of business owners in the Upstate showed that even during the pandemic, access to talent is still the top priority of business leaders – just as it was before the pandemic. Keeping low-level offenders out of prison and in the workforce is important as our economy recovers. All of the events of 2020 will present great economic opportunities for the states that are best able to pivot and take advantage of the constant state of change. As an Ernst & Young analyst said earlier this year: “The pace of change has never been this fast before, and it will never be this slow again.” Near-term statutory reforms will better position South Carolina communities for the many economic development opportunities that will arise from our current health crisis.
As our economy transitions from shock to rapid recovery, we thank you for taking another hard look at our state’s criminal justice system. We must make smarter choices about who we incarcerate, the duration of that incarceration, and how we can best support their post-incarceration transition back into society. Our economic expansion may depend on it.
The issues of sentencing reform, hate crime penalties, and law enforcement tactics are transcending social debates and are quickly becoming economic development imperatives. As the members of this subcommittee and the full committee continue your work, please give significant thought to the following measures to improve our statutory climate so we may better position South Carolina for future economic development opportunities:
- First, review and adjust our state’s current penal code to better align crimes and sentencing.
- Next, expand the number of non-violent felony offenses that could be eligible for removal from one’s record, and third and finally,
- Better prepare inmates for high demand 21st century career opportunities that will reduce their chances for recidivism.
The Metro Chambers Coalition urges continued action on these issues to follow the historic expungement legislation passed in 2018 and the Smart on Crime reforms from 2010. We remain concerned that inaction on issues like a hate crimes law will have a negative impact on economic development – and we may never know the true impact of which businesses never considered locating in our state because of it.
We’ve already seen the benefits of criminal justice reform here.
With the passage of “smart on crime” reforms a decade ago, South Carolina emerged as a national pioneer in criminal justice. These reforms have helped make South Carolina a better place to live, work, and do business. Incarceration rates are down by double digits, we’ve saved well more than $500 million in taxpayer money that can be used for education and infrastructure, in part by closing six prisons. We lowered the rates of incarceration for low-level and non-violent offenders, and then this body passed record expungement in 2018. Our incarceration rate is lower than our neighbors in the Southeast..
As the events of this summer have brought to light, there is more left to do. We thank Speaker Lucas and the members of this committee for their urgent work.
Rather than continue to fund an unsustainable prison expansion, in 2010, state leaders turned to evidence-based policy reforms and South Carolina has seen results.
The successes over the past decade show that this kind of forward-thinking policy making delivers positive results for our state. But our prisons remain understaffed and overcrowded. The vast majority of people sent to prison are still there for non-violent offenses or for failing the rules of supervision. And today, South Carolina spends more than $500 million per year in total on corrections. The hefty price tag, mixed outcomes, and stress about an available workforce adds up to a problem which the business leaders we represent can no longer afford to ignore.
Our state’s successes show that forward-thinking policy making can deliver results for our state. We applaud you for tackling these issues and hope we can double-down on the success of previous reforms. Our Chambers are ready to assist your work in any way possible.
I’m happy to take questions if you wish.