Public Safety in South Carolina

In 2010, state lawmakers enacted S.B. 1154, the Omnibus Crime Reduction and Sentencing Reform Act, which modified dozens of sentencing policies, improved parole decision-making, strengthened community supervision, and instituted legislative oversight and accountability. The law made South Carolina a leader among the states employing research-driven criminal justice policies to produce a greater public safety return on corrections spending.

In the 25 years before the reforms, the state’s prison population nearly tripled, and state spending on prisons skyrocketed from about $64 million to $394 million. Despite this growth, violent crime and recidivism rates remained high.

But six years after enacting the law, South Carolina’s prison population has declined 14 percent while the latest statewide crime data show that violent and property crime rates have both fallen 16 percent. Because of the prison population decline, the state cancelled plans to build new prison space, averting all related construction and operating costs. It also closed six prison facilities, saving a total of $491 million between 2010 and 2016. 

This approach is soft on the taxpayer and smart on crime. It is soft on the taxpayer because it will reduce the need to build more prisons. It is smart on crime because community-based alternatives such as restitution and drug courts entail more accountability and have been proven to reduce recidivism.—state Senator George E. “Chip” Campsen III (R)

Other highlights of South Carolina’s progress include:

  1. Prison population reduced.
    a. From 2010 to 2016, prison space dedicated to violent offenders increased 23 percent.
    b. After reform, the state's imprisonment rate fell from 11th highest in the nation to 19th.
  2. Public safety improved.
    a. Revocations to prison for violation of probation or parole rules (not new crimes) declined 33 percent between 2010 and 2015.
    b. The three-year recidivism rate fell 13 percent for those released in 2013, compared with those released in 2009.
  3. Taxpayer dollars saved.
    a. The prison population is now 25 percent below the level projected for 2014.
    b. The state closed six facilities and avoided building new prison space.
    c. The state has saved a total of $491 million through averted spending and reduced operating costs.

To ensure continued success, the South Carolina Sentencing Reform Oversight Committee, chaired by state Senator Gerald Malloy (D), monitors implementation of the 2010 law and recommends areas for further study.