Pubdate: Thu, 03 Jun 2010
Source: State, The (SC)
Copyright: 2010 The State
Author: Seanna Adcox


COLUMBIA, S.C. =AD A sentencing reform measure
signed into law Wednesday was praised by South
Carolina lawmakers as getting smart on crime and "soft" on taxpayers.

The law is designed to put fewer people in prison
on minor offenses, and instead help them turn
their lives around through improved oversight and
training while on parole. The sentencing changes
apply to people arrested Wednesday and thereafter.

"Unless we're going to build a bunch more jails,
we've got to look at alternatives," Republican
Gov. Mark Sanford said before signing off on it. "This bill does that."

The four most common offenses for South Carolina
prison inmates are drug charges, burglary, check
fraud and driving under suspension, in that
order. Proponents say the new law will ensure
there is prison space for high-risk, violent
criminals, who will serve longer prison terms.

The legislation was the culmination of more than
40 meetings by a study committee that included
House and Senate members of both parties, state
judges and the Corrections Department director,
with input from various law enforcement agencies and victims' advocates.

Its chairman, Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville,
called it an example of what can be done when
people put aside politics to improve the lives of South Carolinians.

"This is turning people from being tax burdens to taxpayers," he said.

The changes were embraced by the GOP-controlled
Legislature partly because of the state's budget
crunch, Malloy has said, noting that
incarcerating someone costs $14,500 a year,
compared to roughly $2,000 for supervised probation.

Harsh sentencing that arose through the war on
drugs has not worked, but has turned prisons into
a criminal training ground, turning nonviolent
offenders into violent ones, Victoria Middleton,
the executive director of the American Civil
Liberties Union in South Carolina, has said.

South Carolina spends the second lowest amount
per inmate in the nation. But South Carolina's
inmate population and its cost to taxpayers have
soared since 1983, from less than 9,200 costing
the state $64 million, to 25,000 costing $394
million. If trends continue, there will be 3,200
more inmates in five years, costing an extra $141
million to house and feed them, and several
hundred million more for construction of new
prisons, the committee report said.

Sen. Chip Campsen, a study committee member, said
the law's community-based alternative sentencing
gives people incentives to leave crime behind,
while providing more relief to victims, such as making restitution easier.

"It's smart on crime and soft on the taxpayer," said Campsen, R-Isle of

The bill allows more inmates to participate in
work release programs in their sentence's final
three years, if they pass a screening process. It
also mandates 180 days of re-entry supervision
for nonviolent inmates. Currently, many choose to
max out their sentences rather than go through parole or probation.

Other changes in the lengthy bill include
deleting mandatory minimum sentences for a first
conviction on simple drug possession, allowing
the possibility of probation or parole for
certain second and third drug possession
convictions, and removing sentencing disparities
between crack and powder cocaine possession.

The bill changes the status of two dozen crimes
from nonviolent to violent - including sex crimes
involving children - meaning those inmates can't
be paroled until they serve at least 85 percent of their time.

The law allows home detention for people
convicted a third time for driving under
suspension, and route-restricted drivers'
licenses on first- and second convictions, while
increasing penalties for habitual offenders who
gravely injure or kill someone while driving on suspension.

Lily Lenderman of Spartanburg said the law will
bring justice to her grandson Michael, who was
hit and killed while on his mo-ped in 2002 by a
man driving with a suspended license. The man
served four months in jail for failing to yield
the right of way to her grandson, only to be re-arrested 18 days later.

"From a grandma's heart, I couldn't understand
that," said Lenderman, who has been advocating
ever since for increased penalties for habitual
offenders who injure or kill someone. "I feel my ordeal has been worth it."
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart