Report: Warden making 142-mile daily commute on taxpayers' dime

WIS follows Tyger River Correctional Warden Tim Riley driving to work from home in Columbia
WIS follows Tyger River Correctional Warden Tim Riley driving to work from home in Columbia

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The South Carolina Department of Corrections spends about $100,000 a year on a program that gives prison wardens a free ride to work.

The inspector general's report is six months old. It looks into potential waste inside the state Department of Corrections.

WIS took a look at the report to see if anything has changed.

Reporter Jody Barr sat, watched and waited for Tyger River Correctional Warden Tim Riley to leave for work.

Just before 7 a.m., Riley rolled his state-issued Chevy out of his garage and started his one hour, 10 minute ride to work.

Riley lives in Columbia, five miles from the Department of Corrections headquarters.

But every day, for the past five years, Riley drives 71 miles up interstate 26 out of Richland county, through Lexington, Newberry, Laurens and Union Counties.

His Spartanburg County office inside the Tyger River prison.

Riley is one of 28 wardens across the state, the office of inspector general says, who has a state issued car and fuel charge card.

"For you to tell me now, six months later, that nothing's changed, is concerning and upsetting to me," said retired SC Inspector General Jim Martin.

Martin wrote the investigative report on corrections wardens' car use back in January. He believes there's no way the Department of Corrections can justify the car benefit.

"There have been only two disturbances in five years at Tyger River that necessitated the warden actually making that trip in an emergency situation," said Martin. "So when you take five years worth of commuting and the expense to tax payers, I think that's being a little extreme."

In five years, Martin figured Riley's trips cost tax payers more than $32,000 with fuel prices well above $3 a gallon.

It's the same story across the state with other wardens who also make similar trips from their Columbia homes to prisons in rural areas. Areas where they choose not to live.

"You've got to be able to respond very quickly because a situation at a prison can get nasty very quickly and it could be a matter of life and death," said Department of Corrections Spokesperson Clark Newsom.

Newsom says it's a matter of public safety that a warden be able to respond to a prison emergency, quickly and in a matter of minutes.

Riley lives one hour, 10 minutes away.

"Some would say 30 minutes would be timely, but an hour and 10 minutes away?" Barr asked Newsom.

"They have to be ready to get there as quickly as they possibly can because it can make a very, very big difference in the way if it's a life or death situation," responded Newsom.

The Inspector General's report offered other ways to get a warden to a prison quickly: the use of SLED's helicopter, or a ride with a state trooper or a sled agent, who would have to respond anyway.

Six months to the day of the inspector general's report our evidence shows in the Tim Riley case, nothing changed.

"Has there been any policy change at this point, since the Inspector General's report came out in January?" Barr asked.

"Yes, as I mentioned, a question--and a weighted question--in there is whether or not you intend to live in the community," said Newsom. "We're not requiring them to do that, but it makes a difference."

"It kind of says that, myself and the investigators wasted a lot of time doing all the investigating, traveling to Tyger River, interviewing employees, going out and meeting with the Department of Corrections officials in Columbia, because it all fell on deaf ears," said Martin. "So that in and of itself is a waste."

We asked Governor Nikki Haley why corrections, which is a cabinet agency, hasn't stopped what the inspector general calls "wasteful spending."

The Governor's office never responded.

The problem for the Inspector General is once the office issues recommendations, who makes sure the agency heads implement the changes, to make sure tax dollars are used efficiently?

WIS haven't gotten an answer to that from the governor's office. And in the prison warden vehicle case, the spending continues.

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