COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling is testifying before a Senate subcommittee to discuss recent issues at state prisons, including the deadly riot that killed seven inmates.
Stirling is outlining his agency's plans to raise staff morale and inmate morale following the deadly Lee Correctional Institution riot that also injured 22 others.
Stirling began his testimony Thursday by discussing the implementation of a system that would allow inmates and employees confidentially voice concerns without fear of retribution.
"I want to know and be able to fix issues that arise," Stirling said.
But morale was a particular sticking point for senators, and Stirling defended the agency's actions. Stirling said that morale in the agency and prisons is directly tied to salaries being too low and corrections officers being stretched too thin. According to Stirling, state prisons are short over 600 front line officers and the agency is only funded for 275 officers.
"I think when you are working a shift and you are by yourself, it's very hard to get the job done," Stirling said.
Senators asked if money and pay raises for corrections officers were enough, but Stirling listed measures such as working toward re-entry for inmates and celebrating Corrections Officers Appreciation Week with new boots for employees.
Still, Sen. Marlon Kimpson challenged Stirling, and said that new boots and uniforms don't fix incompetency issues for corrections officers and that they need more training.