The South Carolina Senate gave its initial approval Wednesday to a bill that would allow prison inmates who are not a security risk to attend the funerals of immediate family members if the family pays for the cost of transporting the inmate.
Members of the Senate unanimously approved the bill Wednesday morning. The proposal requires another procedural vote before it heads to the House.
“Your parents are some of the most important people to you,” the bill’s sponsor State Sen. Karl Allen, D-Greenville, said afterwards. “The fact that you are confined does not change that importance. And, in fact, some studies show that inmates’ disciplinary issues will go down by allowing them to have that emotional closure.”
The state Department of Corrections used to allow the visits, but stopped in 2005 due to cost issues. Corrections Director Bryan Stirling cited a lack of resources again last month, saying his agency does not have enough corrections officers to spare for a single inmate to attend funerals.
“We have concerns with having officers transport across the state and possibly across the country,” Stirling told Allen in a hearing last month. “If we had enough officers and enough staff and we felt like we could do this safely, we would be all for it.” The corrections director said the issue isn’t a lack of money, but high turnover rates and difficulty recruiting new officers.
The senator said he was able to ease concerns from prison officials by requiring the family to come up with money to cover the costs. He noted similar county arrangements with county sheriff’s offices have allowed dozens of inmates to use the privilege in certain situations.
“It strikes my heart to have SCDC tell them, ‘We don’t do that anymore ,'” Allen said of having families and nonprofits front the cost. “It’s kind of like what Grandmother used to say: where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Under the legislation, inmates would only be able to attend funeral services, wakes or deathbed visits for immediate family members, including a parent substitute. The event could only be held in South Carolina.
Some senators previously expressed concerns about safety if a previous victim were to attempt to harm the inmate at the funeral. However, no lawmakers voted against the bill on Wednesday.