The comprehensive package of reforms Governor Mark Sanford signed into law today puts South Carolina at the forefront of states advancing research-driven criminal justice policies designed to protect public safety, hold offenders accountable and control corrections costs. The Omnibus Crime Reduction and Sentencing Reform Act was a strongly bipartisan effort, passing the Senate unanimously and the House by a vote of 97 to 4.
"South Carolina is enacting policies that will provide research-based strategies to reduce recidivism, hold offenders accountable and maximize the state's limited financial resources," said Richard Jerome, project manager, Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States. "South Carolina policy makers put aside ideology, looked at the data and forged a comprehensive package of reforms that will get taxpayers a better return on their public safety dollars."
The legislation increases penalties for certain violent crimes while reducing prison terms for some non-violent offenses. It also requires improvements in how parole release decisions are made, requires supervision for offenders leaving prison and strengthens supervision for offenders on probation and parole by focusing corrections resources on high-risk offenders.
Overall, the legislation ensures there is more prison space for the state's violent and career criminals while helping stop the revolving door for lower-risk, non-violent offenders. The net effect of the changes is projected to slow the growth of the state's prison population substantially during the next five years. Forecast models estimate the reforms will reduce the need to build and operate new prison space by 1,786 inmates over the next five years, saving up to $175 million in construction costs and avoiding more than $66 million in operating costs.
This legislation is the product of more than a year of work by the South Carolina Sentencing Reform Commission. The commission consisted of three members each from the state Senate, House of Representatives and the judiciary, as well as the director of the Department of Corrections. Working with the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States and its partners, the Crime and Justice Institute and Applied Research Services, Inc., the commission analyzed the state's sentencing and corrections trends to identify the main reasons for the growth in prison population and costs. Then, using an extensive database assembled from various agencies, projected the fiscal impact of scores of policy options. The commission also received extensive input from stakeholders, including prosecutors, crime victims, law enforcement, the defense bar and other key members of the criminal justice community.
"South Carolina is a leading example of what can happen when policy makers take a data-driven approach to difficult policy issues and then work together in a bipartisan fashion across the three branches of government to find pragmatic solutions," Jerome said.
The Pew Center on the States is a division of The Pew Charitable Trusts that identifies and advances effective solutions to critical issues facing states. Pew is a nonprofit organization that applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life.