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 incarceration, 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 (R) 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 in 2010.
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:
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.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 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 7%, the incarceration rate fell by 9%, and the recidivism rate dropped by nearly 4%.
South Carolina has also taken steps to ensuring female dignity in prisons by outlawing the shackling of pregnant inmates. This 2020 bill prohibits the use of restraints that could endanger female inmates and their unborn children.
Identification of legislation should not be considered an endorsement of support of, or opposition to, such bills.