Early Parole May Be Coming for South Carolina Prisoners Over 60

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Last year, legislation was introduced to reduce prison populations throughout the state, prompting the potential release of inmates who’ve served at least 65 percent of their sentences. While there are limitations on who can be released under the program, there are also talks that inmates over 60 years of age who qualify may be released as well.

According to Greenville News, in the 10 years between 2007 and 2017 these early release programs allowed South Carolina to reduce prison populations from a staggering 25,000 to just 19,000. Over time, this has saved the state an estimated $500 million. That’s a lot of money saved by not maintaining costly services to prisoners, many of whom may have been in jail for nonviolent offenses or who were aging into their senior years and no longer posing a threat to the community. Of course, such laws are not without opposition.


Problems With Early Release Programs

While South Carolina is joining other states in increasing efforts at compassionate release, as it is often called, some argue that early release programs put the public in danger and they suggest that stronger oversight needs to be in place to make it work. Further, it’s not clear that these programs will be carried out very well, especially when you look at the failures of other states.


Examples of Failed Early Release in Other States

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Take, for instance, a similar program in Wisconsin. There, just six inmates were released under the program in 2017, according to the Journal Sentinel. Why, you may ask? Well, these laws often get filled with tons of political “pork” (extra requirements and rules that have little to do with the purpose and reasoning of the law). In Wisconsin, at the time of the 2016 reporting, there were about 1,200 prisoners who would qualify for so-called “geriatric release,” due to being 60 or older as of December 31, 2016. Some estimates suggest that it was costing that state upwards of $70,000 each year (per prisoner). So, releasing these 1,200 would save the state about $84 million. So why not release them?

Well, the law applies only to those convicted after December 31, 1999 – the year that “truth in sentencing laws were put in place. Yet, more than a quarter of all the elderly inmates in Wisconsin are in jail for crimes committed long ago. This means that the vast majority of truly sick and elderly inmates who could benefit from compassionate release are ineligible.


Making it Work in South Carolina

Sadly, South Carolina offenders routinely serve time well past their eligibility for parole. Consider one report from the State Legislature, which shows that between 2010 and 2016 the percent of time served as actually increased by 29 percent (roughly 16 months). Likewise, even those convicted of minor offenses like shoplifting regularly serve as much as eight months past parole eligibility.  

For compassionate release to work, the public needs to understand the true impact of a high prison population. Lawmakers must carefully weigh the actual risks (not rhetorical or hypothetical fears) in order to determine whether aging nonviolent offenders should be kept in jail for decades, at huge costs to the public.


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