Career Criminals: Putting an end to the revolving door of recidi - - Columbia, South Carolina

Career Criminals: Sheriff backs bill that disallows bond for some repeat offenders


Rick Palmer is known as a mentor by his students at Eau Claire High School. He runs their Young Life club, an after school ministry. They have to meet down the road and outside of the school because of his previous line of work.

"I'm not allowed access to all the schools in the district," said Palmer. "That's what I'm still fighting now even though I'm trying my best to connect with kids."

Jason Blackwell had to jump through some human resources hoops to hire him.

"It's been a tremendous blessing," said Blackwell. "He speaks straight into the world of these kids. He gets it."    

To understand Palmer's previous life, we have to go back to the 1990's when he was just a kid in Columbia.

Palmer says a family move from Dreher High School to Lower Richland High School threw him off.

"We started off selling alcoholic beverages," said Palmer. "We would sell alcoholic beverages in school to underclassmen and even our peers."

Then he started selling marijuana.

"And then we started doing what's called capers, which is robberies," said Palmer. "We robbed a liquor store, then we robbed an auto parts place. We went from there to banks. By the end, we robbed four banks."

Palmer kept doing it because he kept getting away with it, avoiding arrest and jail time after time after time.

"For me, it was never a financial thing where I had to do it to survive, it was more of a sport," said Palmer.

But there's no question: being a criminal can be a lucrative way to live if you ask one of the people who sees it up close.

"They get caught, get released on bond. They have to pay the bondsmen, have to pay their attorney, so they go back to selling drugs, go back to breaking into houses, they get arrested again, that cycle just keeps going and going and going," said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.

Sheriff Lott says it's the perfect storm: too few judges, solicitors, overcrowded jails all allowing a small population to cause a large problem.

"Probably 5 percent commit 95 percent of the crime," said Lott. "A 5 percent group doing majority of crime. We don't have 10,000 people breaking into houses. You have 50 people breaking into houses. They're breaking into multiple houses, all over the place, or doing robberies or stealing copper. It's a small amount of people. That's all they do."

Sheriff Lott thinks aside from money, the solution is in the State House. He is backing a bill that would mean if someone is arrested, then out on bond and is arrested a second time, they can't be granted bond again.

"We arrest the same person over and over," said Lott. "When is it gonna stop? When is that person gonna be held somewhere where he's not preying on the community?"

Palmer was eventually held. He served six years. During that time a man mentored him, shared his faith, and gave Palmer a friend who loved him like he says no one had.

"I was immediately transformed from a person who was taking to a person who wanted to give," said Palmer.

But still Palmer says it's a hard cycle to break. It's hard to give up the money, and it's hard to find a new livelihood because of the stigma of being a convicted felon.

Lott says Palmer is the perfect example of changing the course. Palmer says he's the exception because someone got in his face and intervened. Sometimes losing a job means finding a life.

"I have a wife, I have a son, I have all the things if you would've looked at me then you wouldn't of said it's gonna happen," said Palmer.

Lott says rehabilitation is often not an option. That's why he feels strongly about keeping repeat offenders behind bars.

As for that bill we mentioned, it's in Senate committee. It would revoke bond for some of these repeat offenders so they couldn't bond out two times in a row.

As for Palmer, he is applying for a gubernatorial pardon. If it's granted, he'll be able to work inside of schools.

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