COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - New data shows the South Carolina Department of Corrections is struggling to fill the correction officer vacancies across the state.
Officials reported a more than three percent increase in the number of officer vacancies from July 2018 to July 2019.
“My concern is staffing,” Bryan Stirling, the Director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, said. “We need more officers.”
Stirling said they have implemented one new method of hiring that he hopes will reduce the number of shortages and lead to greater retention of correction officers. All potential employees now have to take a test, beyond the required background check and interview, before they can start working in one of South Carolina’s facilities. It’s an ethics and integrity test called verinsics.
Sterling said that it tests whether the employee is a good fit for the different situations that correction officers are confronted with.
Sterling also added he’s been working with the legislature for years to increase the salary for officers in hopes of getting more to stay in their positions long term.
“These folks come in and work long shifts, very difficult conditions, and we need to compensate them appropriately,” Stirling said.
Since 2014, officers’ pay is up more than 30% from around $27,000 to over $35,000 for 2020. Stirling said that, despite this increase, it’s difficult to find the right people.
“We’ve got to think of other things to do,” Stirling said. “That’s why we are trying to do overtime. But it’s not just a hiring thing, it’s a retention thing.”
He said verinsics aims to identify ethical individuals who will help reduce the contraband activity happening inside state prisons and will stay long term at their post.
Kyle Caldwell, the head of recruiting, said the test asks about a variety of ethical situations. He said one of the questions is: “Have you ever lied to a superior to avoid taking responsibility?”
Since applicants began taking the test in March, over 35 have failed.
“If we did this a year ago before we started the test, we would have hired them anyway because they passed our initial pre-background you know our basic minimum qualms,” Caldwell said.
Sterling said, since starting verinsics, they’ve seen an increase in retention. Only six people, which is about 2% of hires, have left their post since March.
Stirling said one of his biggest concerns with understaffing is contraband activity. He added that without enough officers, things like contraband cell phones in the hands of inmates, are harder to stop.
This year, over 600 contraband cell phones have been confiscated. Stirling said they have put up 50 foot fences and golf course netting to stop contraband cell phones from being thrown over the fences, but he said they are still seeing drones dropping phones and people attempting to bring phones in through the front gates.