SC governor praises program keeping former convicts from returning to prison

Gov. Henry McMaster will make an announcement Tuesday morning at the Manning Reentry/Work...
Gov. Henry McMaster will make an announcement Tuesday morning at the Manning Reentry/Work Release Center in Columbia.(Live 5)
Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 9:14 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 13, 2021 at 8:11 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - State corrections officials said Tuesday the Palmetto State has the lowest recidivism rate in the nation, thanks to a wide range of reentry programs in the state.

Recidivism is a measure of convicted criminals who commit another offense and re-enter prison. South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said the state’s three-year recidivism rate is the lowest in the nation. That data is based, he said, on a Virginia Department of Corrections study.

South Carolina’s three-year recidivism rate stands at 21.9%, meaning four out of five prisoners do not return to prison within three years after they are released.

“So we want to make them better and give them the opportunities to better themselves and not come back to prison. And that’s exactly what we’re doing at the South Carolina Department of Corrections,” Stirling said.

He said the agency is knocking down barriers to housing and the stigmatism about hiring former inmates. He says the result is a reduction in the instances of violent crime, help with the state’s labor shortage and a saving of taxpayer dollars.

“They know they’re going to get good folks who leave corrections because they’re going to be prepared. They’re going to show up to work, they’re going to be ready to work and they’re going to want that second chance,” Stirling said.

Gov. Henry McMaster joined Stirling to celebrate the effort to keep former convicts from re-entering prison, calling it a happy day for the state.

“This takes vision, it takes understanding, and it takes a belief that there are some people who end up behind the wire that have gone off the road to prosperity, they’ve fallen off, but they can get back on,” he said.

Stirling said the state’s three-year recidivism rate dropped 11 points over the past 11 years. That translates to 92 people for each percentage point, the rough number of inmates that would fill another maximum or medium-level prison.

“Y’all remember the Greyhound bus stop where we used to release the folks leaving prison? I wasn’t really thrilled with what I saw,” he said. “I saw people leaving with prison uniforms. All we did was take the stripe off given a bag and a little bit of money and said, ‘Good luck.’ Now we have housing, employment opportunities, family support, documentation, and services.”

Department of Employment and Workforce Director Dan Ellzey said his agency has been involved with inmates in a second chance program that begins about 90 days before an inmate’s release.

“We have caseworkers who report to work in the prisons everyday,” he said. “That’s where their offices are, and they work with inmates getting them ready to get out, getting them ready to get a job, working on resumes letters to employers, how do we explain incarceration, doing mock interviews and that sort of thing to help them as much as we can to get out.”

He said the success rate for the program in terms of inmates who got a job is 71%.

Antonio Sadler, who said he spent 10 years in prison, went through the program and is employed with GTL Communications.

“This place helped me grow as a man, and develop as a better human being,” he said.

Sadler addressed a group of agency leaders, the Governor, and SCDC staff Tuesday in the same room he was a prisoner in three months ago.

“It felt like things came full circle, but there was a lot more work to do,” Sadler said.

As someone who now helps inmates about to reenter into society, Sadler says understanding their experience helps him connect with them and assist them.

“You go back home with a mark on you, a stigma. You go back home to the parole situation, you have to find money, a ride, no more free meals,” he explained. “People need people to believe in [former inmates]. Some people haven’t been taught they have value. You can’t really judge someone until you know what they went through.”

Sadler and State leaders praised companies that hire the former inmates and encouraged other businesses to do the same.

The state’s General Assembly has allocated more than $4 million to these programs, a figure Stirling said the state has more than made back.

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