A new law which took effect this month now allows South Carolina inmates to briefly leave prison grounds for supervised visits to the deathbeds and funerals of family members.
The law approved by the legislature and signed by Gov. Henry McMaster earlier this month requires the state Department of Corrections to provide transportation and security for an inmate who is not deemed a security risk. However, the trip can only be within South Carolina’s borders.
“They are still safely secure under policies for transport and restraint,” the measure’s sponsor State Sen. Karl Allen, D-Greenville, said. “They’re not out on a joyride. They’re not going to the mall. It’s very limited and strictly followed.”
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 year, saying his agency does not have enough corrections officers to spare for a single inmate to attend funerals. However, Stirling dropped his objections after legislators agreed to have the inmate’s family or nonprofits pay the costs for transit and officers’ salary pay on the trip.
Allen said Department of Corrections wardens were previously able to authorize the trips using local law enforcement, but he worried favoritism was often used. “It just disturbed me that someone would play God and decide which inmate can go and which inmate cannot go and have that privilege when both cases were equal,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.
Allen said he was aware of inmates who weren’t allowed to leave for a funeral, even when they were scheduled to be released a week later.
The measure specifies that an inmate can also briefly leave the prison for the death of a spouse or relative by law (such as a stepchild, adopted family, or guardian who has acted as a parent).
Allen has filed bill four times in 11 years, but this was the first year the measure passed either the state House or Senate.