By Robert Kittle
Gov. Nikki Haley wants South Carolina lawmakers working on next year's state budget to come up with an additional $18 million for the state Department of Corrections to improve safety for state corrections officers and the public.
She included the money in her budget proposal after two hostage situations at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville last year. A corrections officer was stabbed during one of them.
In her State of the State address on January 16th, Haley said, "As a legislator, it was always my belief that giving money to corrections was giving money to criminals, and that there were better, more noble places our tax dollars should go."
Now, she says, she realizes the money isn't going to prisoners; it's going to the officers and protecting them.
Lee Correctional Warden Michael McCall says, "Locking up an inmate and throwing away the key? I was raised that way, too. That doesn't work. These guys are going to be our neighbors someday, and just locking 'em up and throwing away the key is not making them a better human being."
The additional money the governor is asking for would build two guard towers at Lee, which now has none. The towers would allow officers to not only watch for inmates trying to escape, but also let them watch for friends and family members of inmates coming up to throw contraband over the fences.
The Department of Corrections says it confiscated about 3,300 cell phones last year. McCall says a cell phone now goes for around $800 inside a prison. "They can coordinate an escape. They can also get a hold of a victim out there with these cell phones, which we've had cases like that--they're calling the victims and hassling them with these cell phones," McCall says.
The extra money would also buy hand-held metal detectors for officers to use to find shanks and other contraband on inmates. Gov. Haley's plan would also give a 3 percent pay raise to officers who work in the state's maximum security prisons, like Lee.
McCall has 54 vacancies right now and has a hard time finding qualified officers willing to work there. The starting salary for corrections officers is $25,000.
Some of the money would also be used to change the ventilation system in the prison cells. Now, four or six cells share vent shafts. When an officer comes to search a room for contraband, the inmate will tie string to the contraband and "fish" it to another cell. McCall says he doesn't have enough staff to have officers watch the connected cells while another searches.