S.C. Dept. of Corrections cancels visitation due to staffing, says historic raises will help solve problem

Tweets from SCDC show correctional institutes from Kershaw to Trenton to Ridgeville did not...
Tweets from SCDC show correctional institutes from Kershaw to Trenton to Ridgeville did not allow visitors last weekend.(Live 5)
Published: Aug. 26, 2022 at 10:33 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 26, 2022 at 9:00 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - For people with loved ones at some correctional institutions across the state, taking a visit to see them in prison earlier this week was not possible because of staffing shortages, according to leaders with the South Carolina Department of Corrections.

“We’re always going to go with safety,” South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Sterling says. “If we can’t visit—and I know loved ones really want to visit, either through video or in person—if we have to cut something, we’re going to cut something.”

SCDC has hired 126 people since July 1, but there are about 1,300 correctional officer openings at prisons across the state, according to Stirling, though he says they only have funding for about 450. There are about 97 vacancies at Lieber Correctional Institution in Ridgeville.

“Programming, out of cell time, things of that nature—[staffing shortages] affect almost everything we do,” he says.

The department has had staffing issues for years, and Stirling blames low pay for the problem.

“In 2013, I took over—they hadn’t been given a pay raises in 10 years,” he says. “Besides maybe some updated pay across the board for the state, nobody had ever asked for a pay raise for our officers and they weren’t getting paid overtime.”

To combat the issue, however, Stirling says there have been significant pay raises for correctional officers within SCDC. There has been a $30 million pay raise across the board for security and correctional staff, he says.

“Some folks are going to see a 37 percent increase in their pay,” Stirling says. “The other thing we did, we went to General Assembly and asked them if we could drop the age to be a correctional officer from 21 to 18. You can now come out of high school in South Carolina and apply for a job at a corrections facility across this state and make close to $50,000 in your first year. And that doesn’t include overtime and bonuses and things of that nature.”

SCDC is set to increase pay for other jobs within the department, including nurses and maintenance workers like plumbers and electricians, according to Stirling. However, he adds improving retention is another important piece of the puzzle.

“We’re not going to hire our way out of this problem, we have to retain also the folks that we have,” he says.