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June 3, 2010

Big sentencing changes become law in South Carolina

As detailed in ths local report, which is headlined "New law changes criminal sentencing," the Palmetto State has just completed an impressive bit of modern sentencing reform.  Here are the basic details:

South Carolina has a new way of dealing with criminals that judges, victims' advocates, crime and justice experts and Republicans and Democrats all have signed off on.  The comprehensive new law is intended to save money while diverting nonviolent offenders from prison to community-based programs so space is available in prison for violent criminals.  Gov. Mark Sanford signed it into law Wednesday.

The new law was one year in the making. It is intended to:

  • Make sure there is space for high-risk, violent offenders in prison while saving the state an estimated $350 million, the cost of building a new prison.
  • Help inmates transition from prison life back to society and increase supervision of former inmates in the community.
  • Provide incentives for probationers and parolees to stay drug- and crime-free in order to go from being tax burdens to taxpayers.

The lengthy new law also redefines 22 crimes as violent, providing longer sentences for some offenders.

Here are some details about why and how this reform came to happen:

Sanford said the law was "smart on crime," a sentiment echoed by many Wednesday.  The governor said it strikes the right balance and it's good for the taxpayers. Experts from the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States helped the state develop the new law.

The prison population 25 years ago stood at about 9,000 inmates and is today at 24,000.  As the population grew, so did the cost of running the Corrections Department.  In the mid-1980s the prisons ran on $63 million a year. Today it costs $394 million, Sanford said.  In another five years the cost is projected to increase by another $141 million, as the prison population grows by another 3,200 inmates.

"For the taxpayers, there is something fundamentally wrong with that system," Sanford said. "Unless we're going to build a bunch more jails, you have got to look at alternatives.  This bill does that.  I think it strikes the right balance and in the process saves the taxpayers over 400 million bucks."  South Carolina already spends less than $40 per day on each inmate, the second-lowest rate in the nation, Sanford said.

Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, called the legislation a massive undertaking. He was part of the group that spent the last year coming up with solutions to South Carolina's haphazard criminal justice system. "We really made a difference with this bill," Campsen said. "It is going to change people's lives. It will help offenders get back on their feet and make sure victims get compensated."

Notably, as documented by this editorial from The Economist headlined "Cutting time, cutting crime," this South Carolina reform effort is already garnering praise from various quarters:

Call it one of the tiny wisps of silver emanating from the immense cloud of municipal budget crises: South Carolina's Republican governor today signed off on a sentencing-reform law that passed the state's Republican-controlled legislature by a wide margin....

We rarely consider prisons and jails a service provided by the state, but of course they are: they are a service to law-abiding citizens, even though, unlike most other municipal services, the money is not spent directly on those whom it serves. And as cash-strapped states are cutting schools, libraries and other such services, it is only natural that they look to prisons. Arguing that a library with fewer books and shorter opening hours better serves its users, however, would be laughable; whereas in the case of prisons, putting fewer people in them and helping those who leave never return is precisely what we ought to be doing.

June 3, 2010 at 06:53 PM | Permalink


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To virtually eliminate all crime, and to save 90% of current costs of the criminal law, it is very simple. Enact corporal punishment, such as caning. If the criminal does not learn after 2 convictions and punishments for violent crimes, execute the criminal summarily upon the third conviction. Even if the last conviction is false, it does not matter. One has expelled a dangerous person from this world. Start the count at the youngest age palatable to the public.

Small problem. When we say cut costs by 90%, what does that mean? It means left wing government workers will no longer be needed, and government may shrink, taxes may drop precipitously. When we say, government, what does that mean? It means a wholly owned subsidiary of the lawyer profession. They will never allow the crime problem to be solved because they would lose their jobs. So the lawyer will always preserve and protect a high level of criminality by immunizing the criminal defendant client from 90% of prosecutions.

To prevent hundreds of crimes, you get rid of a criminal. To prevent 1000's of crimes, you get rid of a judge. To prevent millions of crimes, you get rid of an appellate judge. To get rid of 10's of millions of crimes over decades, you get rid of the lawyer hierarchy that instructs these judges how to rule. To deter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 3, 2010 10:32:39 PM

You said it all in your last sentence. Our goal should be to rehabilitate those non-violent offenders, not spend millions in taxpayer money to keep them locked up forever.

Posted by: Jay | Jun 4, 2010 12:36:36 PM

Hey Jay, very well said :)

Based on my knowledge, too many people sacrificing in jail even they're not the one who did the crime, they are sacrificing for nothing.

Hope we can help those people :(

Posted by: Adult toys | Jun 5, 2010 2:19:17 PM

hey, so right. I was harressed for 2 years by an individual. I tried to get help/ Finally I was able, after begging, to have him arrested, but then he also had me arrested. I did niothing. His was based on lies and retailation. Whats wrong here??

Posted by: Sue | Jun 6, 2010 11:38:50 AM

why should someone that sold drugs do the same time as someone that raped or killed someone. Now how is that fair.

Posted by: yoyo | Jun 7, 2010 6:02:37 PM

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