State Initiatives: South Carolina

South Carolina’s correctional population nearly tripled during the past 25 years and was projected to grow by another 3,200 inmates by 2014 prior to a major overhaul enacted in 2010.i Since 1983, state spending on prisons increased by more than 500 percent to $394 million.ii

In 2010, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford signed a comprehensive overhaul of state sentencing and corrections policy that passed the Legislature nearly unanimously. The bill was based on approaches that research indicates will both save money and reduce crime.

The package diverts certain low-risk, nonviolent offenders from prison to community-based programs so space is available in prison for violent and dangerous criminals to serve longer sentences. In fact, the legislation reclassifies 22 previously nonviolent offenses, many of which can result in death, as violent. The package is estimated to save the $350 million, the cost of building a new prison which would otherwise be necessary.iii Key provisions of the legislation: 1) authorize the use of risk and needs assessments of offenders to better allocate community supervision resources; 2) remove barriers to inmates successfully reentering society; and 3) provide incentives for probationers and parolees to stay drug- and crime-free.

Conservatives played a major role in championing this overhaul. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Prison Fellowship Vice President Pat Nolan said in a piece supporting the reforms: “About half of South Carolina’s prison population is being held for nonviolent offenses… Such low-level violations, as well as certain nonviolent drug-related crimes, can be punished in other ways that aren’t as expensive as prison. We build prisons for people we’re afraid of. Yet South Carolina has filled them with people we’re just mad at.”iv

Governor Sanford said the law was "smart on crime,” and that it strikes the right balance and it's good for the taxpayers.v

Similarly, State Senator George E. “Chip” Campsen III (R), a member of the South Carolina Sentencing Reform Commission that developed the overhaul proposal, noted: “This approach is soft on the taxpayer and smart on crime. It is soft on the taxpayer because it will reduce the need to build more prisons. It is smart on crime because community-based alternatives such as restitution and drug courts entail more accountability and have been proven to reduce recidivism.”vi


i South Carolina’s Public Safety Reform: Legislation Enacts Research-based Strategies to Cut Prison Growth and Costs, Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project, June 2010.
ii Ibid.
iii Yvonne Wenger, “New law changes criminal sentencing,” The Post and Courier, 3 June 2010.
iv South Carolina’s Public Safety Reform: Legislation Enacts Research-based Strategies to Cut Prison Growth and Costs, Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project, June 2010.
v Yvonne Wenger, “New law changes criminal sentencing,” The Post and Courier, 3 June 2010.
vi South Carolina’s Public Safety Reform: Legislation Enacts Research-based Strategies to Cut Prison Growth and Costs, Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project, June 2010.

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