Prison guards’ pay
South Carolina can’t have it both ways. It can’t get criminals off the street and into jail cells and fail to pay prison staff adequately.
If those criminals are jailed but not supervised, the state can expect more prison security problems, including riots and attacks on guards – causing more staff to quit and even fewer people on hand to keep prisons safe and secure.
For years it was easy for the S.C. Legislature to look the other way. When courting voters, they never hear people demanding more money for prisons.
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Then came a blistering court decision in 2014 finding that the S.C. Department of Corrections mistreated patients with mental illness to shocking degrees. The state was ordered to fix things. And doing that costs money.
The department has indeed made progress toward meeting the judge’s order. But those steps did not include raising the pay of people who work in the prisons – among the lowest-paying positions on the state payroll. And it hasn’t done enough to fill the positions that employees had fled because of low pay and dangerous working conditions.
At McCormick Correction Institution near Greenwood, almost half the jobs were empty as of Nov. 1. Statewide, only 70.4 percent of correctional officer jobs were filled.
It isn’t difficult to figure out why: Their starting salary is $26,375 – $4,000 less than a garbage truck driver in Charleston, according to reporter Maya T. Prabhu. And that is $1,500 more than last year. Until that bump in pay, officers had not gotten a pay raise in at least 15 years.
What happens when staff members are underpaid is that they spend just enough time at a prison to be trained and certified and then take jobs elsewhere with salaries that are $10,000 higher.
And a few will succumb to temptation and get in league with prisoners, smuggling in contraband like cellphones in order to supplement their pay.
South Carolina isn’t the only state dealing with budgetary and staffing shortages in prisons. Dire staffing shortages have been reported in New Mexico, Kansas, Nebraska, Michigan, Missouri and West Virginia, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.
One obvious factor is that the U.S. incarcerates people at a rate higher than any other country in the world. South Carolina has worked to reform sentencing laws so that violent criminals are locked up but non-violent criminals like those caught with drugs are dealt with in the community. Clearly, the state has more to do in that regard.
And the Legislature cannot wait until prison populations drop before it addresses the untenable practice of underpaying prison officers so dramatically as to make it difficult to fill positions, thus endangering prison staff and prisoners.
One of state government’s core functions is to provide for the safety of citizens – including those who work in prisons and those who have been sentenced to prison.
That begins with paying people fair and reasonable salaries to do thankless and dangerous work.
The (Charleston) Post and Courier
Rivals push reading
Thumbs up to USC and Clemson for a creative way of instilling good reading habits among students.
The schools got the support of the Education Oversight Committee to promote a statewide reading competition that resulted in about 400,000 books being read. Of course, they were reading for a prize, which was to attend the annual matchup between Carolina and Clemson on Saturday. Two readers, including Derrion Greene from Greenwood, were randomly selected as winners in the “Read Your Way to the Big Game” contest.
The (Greenwood) Index Journal