The prison population in South Carolina has dropped by nearly three percent in the past 12 months, according to a new report from the State Sentencing Reform Committee.
Officials said a law passed in 2010 offering alternative sentences for nonviolent offenses has contributed to the decline. State Department of Corrections spokesman Clark Newsom said more efforts are being made to rehabilitate nonviolent offenders with an emphasis on younger inmates.
“We’re increasing the number of programs that we’re doing and we’re trying to get to the younger population with a series of things that we are doing to keep them out of the system or make their stay shorter.”
The report shows that nonviolent offenders currently make up 34 percent of the state’s prison population, compared to more than 50 percent in 2002.
The modest decline translates to a savings of $5.2 million in tax dollars. Newsom said those funds are sorely needed to hire more people because the state’s 26 prisons are not fully staffed.
“We have right around 370 openings and we are constantly trying to fill those in order to keep our 26 prisons fully staffed. We.re not there, but this (the savings) will help us in that regard.”
The number of prisoners has decreased by more than 2,000 since 2010.
Newsome added that the prison system houses a significant aging population and that translates to higher healthcare costs.
“We have an aging population and that is going to contribute to our costs as time goes along. As you house people for a longer period of time and they age in prison, the health costs usually go up. That is a nationwide trend.”