State legislation that would add certain reforms to prison sentencing is up for final reading in the state Senate this week and will be waiting for House members when they return in April following a two-week furlough.
The bill would direct the probation and parole system take control of more non-violent offenders and put them in ankle bracelets. But lawmakers say, just as importantly to reducing the need for new prison facilities, it would provide a re-entry program that would keep inmates from returning to prison.
Lexington County Republican Jake Knotts, a retired law enforcement officer, spent his professional career dealing with those who break the law, and with the court system. And he says the Omnibus Crime Reduction and Sentencing Reform Act would make a difference.
Knotts says a re-entry program is an essential part of prison reform–something that the South Carolina Department of Corrections has been sorely lacking.
(Knotts on prison reform II MP3 1:00)
Knotts on prison reform II
Knotts says reducing recidivism is much cheaper than building new prisons,and produces more productive citizens.
Knotts says the state of South Carolina hasn’t built a prison since the early 1990’s, and can’t afford to now, at a cost of at least $135 million. And at the current rate, he says the prison population may increase by three thousand over the next five years.
Knotts says that one out of five of the state’s approximately 25,000 inmates have drug convictions. One major element of the legislation is that it would remove sentencing disparities between crack cocaine possession and possession of regular cocaine. The measure also drops mandatory sentences for first-time convictions for simple drug possession.
The measure changes the classification of 22 crimes from violent to non-violent, but voilent offenders would not be eligible for parole until they serve 85 percent of their sentences. It would allow specially classified inmates, including disabled ones or geriatric patients, to be released from prison.
Senator Gerald Malloy says the legislation is the smart way to go, because it only costs $2,000 for each individual in a supervision program.