S.C. panel of lawmakers shares ideas to improve prison system

Published: Oct. 6, 2020 at 4:40 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - After more than two years of study, the House Legislative Oversight Committee approved its report on the South Carolina Department of Corrections.

The panel made 75 recommendations Monday to help improve transparency, effectiveness, and accountability at the state agency, which in the CSRA oversees prisons in Allendale, McCormick and Trenton.

Lawmakers said over the course of this study they’ve noticed some improvements were made at the Department of Corrections. The inmate population has steadily decreased and the average salary for correctional officers has increased, making wages more competitive.

According to the committee report, there are still plenty of challenges for the agency.

There are still a high number of vacancies in key positions at the agency, like correctional officers and medical staff. SCDC said on average, their facilities are operating at half of the recommended staffing level.

Officials believed that at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic thought they would see an influx in applicants because of the high unemployment rate. They told lawmakers there was a decrease in applications.

Director Bryan Stirling said, “It is kind of a double hit because we have some workers who can’t come in because they have to be at home with their kids because of some school.”

According to the report, the agency is also struggling with retention. Lawmakers recommended officials conduct some employee surveys to better understand morale among their workers.

They also suggested the General Assembly continue to provide additional funding so corrections officials can invest in technology that will make tasks easier for employees. Like electronic locks and an automated dispensing pill system.

Rep. Gary Clary (R-Pickens) said, “The recommendations we are making are trying to make the agency more efficient, more receptive and functioning at a higher level to return people to that society.”

Lawmakers hope to set aside more money next year to help fix up aging buildings. According to the report, there are six dorms over a century old and most facilities have one major component like a boiler, chiller, or transformer years past their life expectancy.

Stirling said he hopes to tackle one of the first recommendations, earning national accreditation as soon as they can.

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