In the 25 years between 1983 and 2009, South Carolina’s prison population surged from 9,137 inmates to 24,612. Accompanying this growth in the prison population was an equally large spike in state spending on the prisons system, increasing from $64 million in 1983 to nearly $400 million by 2008. Despite being one of the countries’ highest incarcerators, South Carolina was no safer than neighboring states and persistently had a crime rate above the national average.
Faced with a budget and safety crisis, then-Governor Mark Sanford and the South Carolina Legislature decided to go a different direction than building more prisons. Following in the footsteps of a fellow deep-red state Texas, South Carolina enacted a modest criminal justice reform package. This package, the Omnibus Crime Reduction and Sentencing Reform Act of 2010 (S. 1154), was intended to safely reduce the prison population, save taxpayer money, and produce a better public safety outcome. And it did just that.
The package, which passed with near-unanimous support, has saved the state at least $18.7 million, with additional cost savings arising from avoiding the projected increase in the prison population. Key provisions of this legislation included:
· Authorizing the use of risk and needs assessments of offenders to better allocate community supervision resources;
· Removing barriers to inmates successfully reentering society; and
· Providing incentives for probationers and parolees to stay drug and crime free.
These steps allowed South Carolina to cut costs and use the proceeds to better target violent criminals and provide more recidivism reduction programming for those preparing for release.
Despite dire predictions from anti-reformers that crime rates would jump, South Carolina actually became safer after passing reforms. Between 2010 and 2013 violent crime rates in the state dropped by 16 percent. During the same time, property crimes declined by 7 percent. All this while the number of those incarcerated by the state fell 9 percent and recidivism rates dropped by nearly 4 percent.
For a full status report on the Sentencing Reforms in South Carolina, click here.
In April 2018, the ACU Foundation's Center for Criminal Justice reform wrote the South Carolina state legislature applauding the already successful reforms in the state, while encouraging legislative leaders to continue being leaders in the national smart-on-crime movement. Read the letter below:
For more facts and figures, please view the resource below from the Sentencing Project.