Pubdate: Tue, 28 Jan 2003
Source: Spartanburg Herald Journal (SC)
Copyright: 2003 The Spartanburg Herald-Journal
Author: Jeffrey Collins, Associated Press


COLUMBIA -- The Corrections Department says it either will have to run its 
budget in the red up to about $24 million this year or start releasing 

Prison officials plan to present its dire budget scenario at Tuesday 
morning's meeting of the State Budget and Control Board.

In a memo to the board, the agency suggests several money-saving options, 
including restarting a furlough program and emergency releases of 
nonviolent offenders, that could free up to 4,000 inmates.

Another option would be to close one prison. But to avoid overcrowding at 
other prisons, the agency would have to release about 2,600 nonviolent 
inmates, according to the memo.

The Corrections Department has not asked the board to act, yet. But at 
least one member said releasing anywhere from 10 percent to nearly 20 
percent of the state's 22,000 prisoners before they serve their sentences 
is not an option.

"You don't want to let prisoners out," said House Ways and Means Chairman 
Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston. "There is a reason they are sentenced to a 
certain number of years."

But Corrections isn't the only agency cut by the budget knife, and to stem 
the bleeding there, plenty of other agencies will have to suffer, Harrell said.

"In the end it will mean deeper cuts to other government agencies."

Few state agencies have been cut as deep as Corrections in the past two 
years, has said Jon Ozmint, Gov. Mark Sanford's pick to run the department.

Since May 2001, about 1,400 jobs have been lost, cutting payroll to about 
5,800 workers. The prison's $264 million annual budget has been cut by $80 
million, or about 23 percent. It's by far the deepest cut suffered by a 
prison agency in the country, Ozmint has said.

The department also has closed two prisons, which has led to overcrowding. 
About 1,500 inmates have had to sleep in prison gyms and day rooms or been 
placed three to a cell instead of two to a cell, according to the agency's 

South Carolina's prisons were under federal oversight for about a decade in 
the 1980s and 90s because of overcrowding.

Corrections Department spokeswoman Cheryl Bates-Lee said Ozmint, who was 
tapped to run the prisons by Sanford earlier this month, wanted to wait to 
talk about the agency's budget woes until after Tuesday's Budget and 
Control Board meeting.

Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, who leads the committee that oversees 
prisons, says former Corrections Director Gary Maynard has done well 
considering the circumstances.

"They could have done some things better, but we're talking about cosmetic 
things like landscaping," said Fair, chairman of the Senate Corrections and 
Penology Committee.

But "when you add those kinds of expenditures up, you're probably still 
woefully under what it takes to manage prisons," Fair said.

If the Budget and Control Board allows Corrections to run a deficit, 
Harrell said prison officials will have to accept the findings of a 
third-party audit on its spending.

The Legislative Audit Council has already begun a through examination of 
the agency, Fair said.

"They are always auditing some state agency, and the timing couldn't be 
better," Fair said.

If the prisons department is not allowed to run a deficit, officials plan 
several steps to save money, including restarting a furlough program ended 
in 1995 after an inmate was convicted of raping and kidnapping an 
11-year-old boy while out on temporary leave.

The Corrections memo stresses only nonviolent inmates would be eligible for 
the program, and suggests it could reduce the daily number of inmates by up 
to 750 prisoners, saving about $3,000 per inmate.

Other suggestions to save money include:

. Asking lawmakers to allow prison officials to release about 1,200 inmates 
under the Emergency Release Powers Act used before in tough economic times.

. Releasing inmates on the first of the month instead of on their actual 
release date. That could reduce prison populations by about 340 inmates.

. Request that the Probation and Parole Board grant more inmates parole.

. Release some nonviolent inmates within one year of release to a home 
detention program, reducing the prison population by about 1,100 inmates.

. Asking the General Assembly to change laws so more inmates serve their 
time in county jails.
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