Deep Center presents newest policy briefing to Chatham County Commission

Recommendations include abolishing wealth-based detention and decriminalizing local misdemeanors

click to enlarge Coco Papy (left, at podium) of Deep Center addresses the Chatham County Commission on Feb. 26. - NICK ROBERTSON/CONNECT SAVANNAH
Nick Robertson/Connect Savannah
Coco Papy (left, at podium) of Deep Center addresses the Chatham County Commission on Feb. 26.
Representatives of Deep Center – a local nonprofit organization founded in 2008 to address detrimental effects of poverty on literacy in Savannah – presented a new policy briefing to members of the Chatham County Commission with recommendations aiming to establish a more just and equitable community, including abolishing wealth-based detention practices and decriminalizing nonviolent misdemeanor offenses.

While Deep Center is best known for its Young Author Program and other literacy-boosting projects offered in 15 of Chatham’s public middle schools and two area high schools, the organization has continually expanded its scope of activities since its foundation, and in 2018 started pursuing policy advocacy and legislative change, according to Deep Center Director of Development and Communications Coco Papy.

“We believe the best in our young people, not just the things that are terrible around them,” Papy said while presenting Deep Center’s newest policy briefing, “Building a Restorative Community,” during the Chatham Commission’s Feb. 26 meeting. “We believe strongly that we cannot continue to honorably uphold our young people if we are not going to do all we could to challenge the policies and laws that created barriers for them and their families.”

According to Papy, Deep Center defines a restorative community as one with active investment in meaningful juvenile- and criminal-justice reform, a strong social safety net, and access to mental healthcare. While the “Building a Restorative Community” policy briefing first released in December has ten recommendations, during her presentation Papy focused on goals that are achievable at a county-government level.

Papy first encouraged the commissioners to declare Chatham County as a restorative community, and take action by establishing committees focused on restorative justice and examining alternatives to arresting low-level offenders. Papy also called for better data-collection collaboration between the Chatham County Police Department and the Savannah Police Department, while making this information directly available to the public.

“Data is the key for us measuring what our metrics look like, where our successes are and where our gaps continue to be,” Papy said.

“We believe the best in our young people, not just the things that are terrible around them.”

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Another Deep Center recommendation is to pass an ordinance addressing cash-bond practices in Chatham County, with the policy briefing stating detrimental impacts of the cash-bail system on the lives of impoverished detainees who may not be guilty of the crimes they are charged with.

“In effect, cash bail often criminalizes poverty, as people who are unable to afford even the most simple bail are detained while they await trial, for weeks, sometimes months, often days,” Papy said. “Doing away with cash bail for low-level, nonviolent misdemeanors would reduce unnecessary stays in our jail.”

Other recommendations conveyed to the commissioners were decriminalizing local misdemeanors like possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, establishing an external crisis team to aid law enforcement, and developing incentives to attract more mental-healthcare workers who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color to Chatham County.

Following Papy’s presentation, some commissioners lauded the efforts of Deep Center.

“I have seen the changes with the Deep Center and the children that you work with. They are totally amazing,” said Commissioner Tanya Milton.

Visit deepcenter.org/news to view the entire “Building a Restorative Community” policy briefing.

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