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January 13, 2013

"How sentencing reform is saving SC taxpayers money"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy local article which is, I think, a telling sign of the modern sentencing times. The sub-headline of the article is "Fewer offenders are in jail, more on probation," and the main headline emphasizes savings for taxpayers rather than threats to public safety. It is truly a brave new sentencing reform world, and this article gets started this way:

In 2010 – with the state Department of Corrections running a $27 million deficit – South Carolina projected its prison population would swell by 3,200 inmates by 2014, costing taxpayers $175 million to make room for those inmates and $66 million a year to take care of them.

Instead, the number of inmates imprisoned has dropped by more than 2,700, and the Corrections Department has closed two prisons. And taxpayers saved $3 million in 2012 alone.

The reason, officials say, is sentencing reform -- a sweeping 2010 bill that radically changed how South Carolina treats its criminals. Written by a Democratic state senator and signed by a Republican governor, the law strengthened penalties for violent crimes while offering alternative sentences for nonviolent crimes. Passage of the law put South Carolina “at the forefront of states advancing research-driven criminal justice polices,” according to the Pew Center on the States.

“You see a lot of legislation that’s passed that seems to be tough on crime,” said state Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, author of the sentencing reform. “We had to get smart on crime.”

But one state department’s budget blessing is another agency’s fiscal burden. While the prison population is falling, the number of South Carolinians on probation is soaring. Agents at the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon services now are supervising 1,409 more offenders than they were two years ago. Each probation agent supervises an average of 97 cases, far above the national average of 50 cases.

To help, Gov. Nikki Haley wants to give the agency $1.2 million in additional money next year to hire 25 new probation agents. It is part of the probation department’s three-year plan to hire 156 new agents to bring the average caseload down to 80 cases per agent.

State lawmakers have $263 million in “new” money – money that should recur in future budget years – to spend in the 2013-14 budget. But nearly all of that will be gobbled up by the state’s Medicaid health insurance program for the poor and disabled, and increases in the cost of state employees’ health insurance.

More money for probation services must be a priority, some state officials say. They say the state is just beginning to see the benefits of sentencing reform. Probation, Parole and Pardon Services plays a crucial role in making the reforms work, they add, and not funding it could set the reforms back.

January 13, 2013 at 08:14 PM | Permalink


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Do any of the newly-minted probationers commit crime that exacts an economic (as well as a human) toll? The article doesn't bother to ask, much less answer, that question.

We have had a generation of success driving down the crime rate with what is viewed in defense circles as a harsh system. But with success comes complacency. And that, not new-found "smartness" about crime, is what we're seeing.

That and this: It's the same old game, the politicians' sleight-of-hand. Costs of imprisonment get a line in the state budget, and are thus easy to see. Costs of being a crime victim get no such line, are borne by private persons, and are thus relatively invisible. That of course is fine with the politicians, who point only to the former while pretending the latter don't exist.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 13, 2013 11:19:51 PM

Bill, your question actually has an answer, and it's not the one you presume. According to this source, index crimes for violent offenses declined in SC from 602 per 100K to 572 per 100K in the first year after the reforms, while property crimes saw a statistically insignificant reduction. (That's down from a high of 788 per 100k in 2007.) Did "any" of the new probationers commit a crime? Probably. Was there less crime overall after SC's reforms? Yes, according to the available data.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 14, 2013 9:05:55 AM

Here's another good way to save money.

Maybe it's time to take probation back to what it was designed to be. It's not parole They are not still under the control of department of correction.

Maybe it's time to wave goodbye to the non-violent, no victim ones as they leave the prison as long as they commit no new crimes they are done. No monthly reporting. No home visits nothing!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 14, 2013 12:23:16 PM

I nominate Bill's comment above for Comment of the Year.

It utters the V word. That alone would qualify it for the prize.

It brings in economics.

It is in accordance with the public viewpoint.

It argues against lawyer economic interest.

Superb analysis. Grits irresponsible, misleading arguments do not detract from its validity in any way.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 15, 2013 12:16:32 AM

Some of these people deserve to be in jail. If it wasn't for budgetary concerns this reform would not have been made. It is bad policy. Whenever you do something to save money in the criminal justice arena, it is bad.

Posted by: Skagway | Feb 7, 2013 2:47:49 AM

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