By Gregg Bragg, The Island Eye News Senior Staff Writer
Scarlett Wilson is defending her position as Ninth Circuit solicitor for the first time since being appointed to replace Ralph E. Hoisington on Aug. 3, 2007. The Hemingway, South Carolina, native has since been elected to the position by voters in Charleston and Berkeley counties three times, and each of the three governors she’s served under have appointed Wilson to a number of advisory commissions, including the prestigious South Carolina Commission for Prosecution Coordination.
Wilson graduated from Clemson University in 1989 and the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1992.
She chose her elected position over more lucrative alternatives because of the pride she takes in programs she’s put in place, she said during a phone call on Sept. 25.
Wilson doesn’t think mass incarceration is the one size fits all solution to everything.
“Yes, we need to address crime, especially crimes that involve violent physical harm, but we can address it in different ways. We need to continue trying to divert people who are in our system solely because they have an addiction. That’s what we do through Veterans Court and Drug Court,” she said.
Wilson is particularly proud of the recent addition of a Mental Health Court to Berkeley County’s quiver of solutions.
“We’ve been able to get that going in Berkeley County. It took us three administrations, but we finally got it approved.
Supervisor Johnny Cribb is onboard, and it has put us in position to coordinate that program in Berkeley County,” chuckled Wilson good-naturedly.
“In the 90s, mental health systems in South Carolina were gutted, so many of those people found themselves in the criminal justice system. It’s difficult to see the number of people who are in our system because they have a mental health issue. The Mental Health Court helps people get on track and that’s critical. We have to get them out of the criminal justice system. We want them happy and healthy and productive.”
Wilson isn’t worried about the leftward voting trend in the Lowcountry exhibited by several wins by Democrats over the last couple years because the job isn’t partisan to begin with.
“Coincidentally, Spencer used to work for me,” she said, referring to Spencer Wetmore, who recently won a special election for a seat in the South Carolina House and is on the ballot again Nov. 3. “I’m not worried because I think people in the community know me and know I’ve kept partisanship out of the prosecutor’s office, where it has no place. I’m counting on people to understand that I’ve been a leader for reform for quite some time now.”
“People understand that I’m the candidate in this race who has real experience and who has been in the courtroom facing down the worst of the worst and figuring out ways to put those who are bent on doing harm to others away. On the other side, I hope that people have seen all that I’ve been able to do with creating alternative programs because not everybody needs to go to prison,” she said.
“Anyone who attempts to physically harm someone is violent,” Wilson added.
“Now there are varying degrees of violence. There’s a difference between a barroom fight and a street stabbing. Certain drug crimes are considered violent, and I want to reclassify those unless there’s some aggravating factor, but there are plenty of drug crimes where people that aren’t engaged in violence at all and should be treated differently. We shouldn’t have a blanket approach to that.”
She pointed out that some drugs are more dangerous than others, citing opiods. She said her office has been investing in NARCAN, a nasal spray used by first responders, family members, friends and caregivers to counteract life-threatening opiod overdoses.
“Some people argue that’s enabling drug use, but that’s not what the science or the studies show. It’s not a party and it’s not fun to have it administered, and it’s not fun even to recover from the NARCAN. But it does save lives, and it gives people a chance to get past their addiction and move on to a healthy, productive life,” Wilson said.
As for campaigning in the age of the plague, Wilson said she’s already been out and about in her district just by doing the job of solicitor.
“I’ve never have seen myself as much of a politician, more the reluctant politician. If I hadn’t been appointed when Solicitor Hoisington died, I can’t imagine I ever would have run, but I thought it was important at the time because of the healing our office needed and because of the things that he and I, as his chief deputy, didn’t get to finish. I don’t like the political part. I have to hope that people have been watching and seeing the good things we’ve been doing and that it’s going to count for something.”
Wilson isn’t exactly soft on crime.
She’s won a raft of awards as Ninth Circuit solicitor, including the Law Enforcement Victims’ Advocate Solicitor of the Year Award and the South Carolina Victim Assistance Network’s Criminal Justice Award for Outstanding Service to Victims. Wilson also helped implement Charleston County’s Safety and Justice Challenge grant awarded by the John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation. Its goal is keeping the most dangerous people behind bars and providing law enforcement and the court more options when dealing with lower-risk, nonviolent offenders.
Wilson was a clerk for the Honorable Don S. Rushing after graduating from the USC School of Law. She then worked as the Fifth Circuit assistant solicitor, as an assistant U. S. Attorney, culminating in work with Hoisington until she was appointed to his position.