COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - South Carolina taxpayers -- you and I -- are spending about 350 million dollars a year on prisons. Why? For one thing, this state locks a lot of people up. We are seventh in the nation in per capita prison population. And in the last twenty years, our prison population has more than doubled.
Now, with budget cuts, state lawmakers have asked corrections leaders for plans to cut ten percent from their budget. Director Jon Ozmint says there is only one way to reach that goal: an early release program. That way, Ozmint says he could close five prisons and save 34 million dollars.
Ozmint wants to release only those inmates who are about to be let out anyway -- on average, a couple of months early. But Ozmint doesn't think there is a chance that will happen.
Why? It's a third rail of politics in South Carolina. No one wants to be seen as soft on crime. Over the past decade, lawmakers have cracked down on crime and done away with parole for violent offenders. That "lock 'em up and throw away the key" attitude prevents any discussion of alternatives.
Other states, such as Kentucky, Mississippi, and Rhode Island are saving hundreds of millions of dollars by using a variety of early release programs. Is early release a good idea for South Carolina? We're not sure. But at least let's have a serious debate about it.