The director of South Carolina’s prison system says his agency has reduced its inmate population since a sentencing reform law passed five years ago, but still faces rising costs with those who remain.
Department of Corrections director Bryan Stirling told a legislative oversight committee this week South Carolina has around 20,800 inmates in the system now, down from 25,000 in 2010. The Omnibus Crime Reduction and Sentencing Reform Act passed in 2010 repealed many of the mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and loosened the restrictions on parole supervision, among other changes.
The number of inmates who are being admitted into state corrections facilities for “nonviolent” offenses has dropped by nearly 40 percent from 11,100 in 2009 to around 6,700 in 2014, Stirling told the Sentencing Reform Oversight Committee.
However, Stirling told a legislative panel this week that the violent offense inmates are getting older — and require the care that comes with age. “That population is quite expensive to keep up with medically and everything,” he said. “As we all know, when folks get older, the medical costs go up. We have to do what we can do because there’s a constitutional standard that we have to meet.”
Stirling said there are more than 2,100 inmates over age 55 in the system. ”
Jon Ozmint — who led the Department of Corrections under former Gov. Mark Sanford — said he believes the state Board of Paroles and Pardons needs to consider an inmate’s health condition when granting a conditional release. “We’ve got everybody buying into the intent of sentencing reform except that (Parole) board,” he told the committee. The eight-member board appointed mostly by the legislature is tasked with approving or revoking paroles and pardons, as well as recommending potential pardons.
The state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services (PPP) director Jerry Adger estimated his agency has saved nearly $25 million over the past five years by releasing more inmates. The 2010 law allows PPP to reinvest up to 35 percent of those savings into its agency.