Lee Correctional fast-tracks reform in SC prisons

posted by Anne Emerson, WCIV - 

Bishopville, S.C. (WCIV) — Prison reform measures were already on the agenda at the state capitol when the deadly riot happened at Lee Correctional last week.

Now that incident appears to be the catalyst for changes in our prison systems.

READ MORE | Governor Henry McMaster takes "emergency" steps after deadly riot at Lee Correctional

“It’s clear that we must take action so, I have the authority to do it and it’s time and I’m doing it,” says Governor McMaster. He issued an executive order this week that affects all state prisons.

It essentially unties the hands of the SC Department of Corrections (SCDOC), allowing the department to expedite efforts for staff recruitment and security measures.

Right now in the statehouse, lawmakers are reviewing a bill that would lower the minimum time served for some offenders from 85 percent to 65 percent.

REALTED | Coroner: Prisoners in Lee Correctional riot died from blood loss caused by stab wounds

Critics of the bill argue it's not well thought-out from a public safety perspective.

But those in favor, like Hearts for Inmates’ founder Erica Fielder, say this bill brings much needed hope to the inmates.

“We are talking about bringing some light in a place of darkness. That’s why it’s important to re-establish hope where a person has an opportunity to earn their way to come back home,” says Fielder.

That bill would also help lower the number of inmates behind bars and alleviate some of the staffing issues.

Days before the riot at Lee Correctional, we spoke to the former director of the SCDOC Jon Ozmint about the staffing crisis.

Ozmint says, “Across the country, the staffing issue is the biggest challenge facing corrections and I’ve talked with corrections directors in states every day, every week at least and everybody is struggling with that.”

Ozmint says it's time find a new way to attract new hires to the SCDOC.

“You constantly have to adjust how you treat this generation as opposed to the generation before. These kids they are just different. They grew up with tablets, we are going to have to start doing our counts by tablets. We are not going to be able to use paper in 10 to 20 years. Those officers are going to have to do their jobs electronically cause that’s the only way they know how to work,” says Ozmint.

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