S.C. prison system fills some openings, but still has many

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Published: Apr. 24, 2023 at 5:13 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - There are a lot of job vacancies in South Carolina correctional system, and that’s big news in the CSRA, which has three state prisons on that side of the Savannah River.

This time last year, more than half of South Carolina’s corrections officer positions were vacant at state prisons.

Today, the S.C. Department of Corrections has lowered that vacancy rate from 60% to 40%, and filled more than 250 officer jobs since then.

A lot of it boils down to money – getting more money from the Legislature last year to increase salaries and offer sign-on, retention and referral bonuses.

The Department of Corrections expects to fill even more jobs soon at places like the state prisons in McCormick, Trenton and Allendale.

“We’re up 256 people. Right now in our academy today, I’ve got 130 security staff in the training academy,” said Joel Anderson, the agency’s deputy director of operations. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen this.”

The Department of Corrections contributes much of this to significantly revamping its approach to recruitment.

The agency decentralized recruiting out of Columbia to also focus on the Upstate and Lowcountry.

And it focused advertising on the areas where potential officers were likely to interact and hear about open jobs – like at gas pumps, in the outfield of Minor League Baseball games and on sports talk radio.

The department also started taking a much more detailed approach to retaining workers, so if their shift or role wasn’t a good fit, they could find a new position within the agency instead of leaving for a different employer entirely.

Lawmakers are still negotiating the next state budget, but as it’s written now, state law enforcement officers would be in line to get raises again this year, including corrections officers.

Corrections Director Bryan Stirling says getting and keeping these jobs filled is vital – not just for his department but for public safety as a whole.

“Now that we have more bodies, that’s making it safer because you have that second set of eyes,” Stirling said. “You have someone watching your back — not everywhere. I mean, we still have some institutions that have high vacancies, and we’re working on those.”