by Chris Haire
If the S.C. Senate has their way, South Carolina's sentencing laws will change drastically.
Today, the state Senate has unanimously passed a crime and sentencing reform bill that is set to reduce the number of non-violent drug offenders in South Carolina prisons, erase the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine, and save the state a boatload of money — like $400 million clams worth.
Wow, man. That's all I can say. Wow.
According to the bill, the state would save $317 million in construction costs for building new prisons and $92 million in operating costs over the next five years. Current projections have the prison population increasing by over 3,000 inmates, while the new bill would reduce the increase in the projected prison population over the next five years by 2,400 prison beds, a 600 inmate increase.
Furthermore, the sentencing for those charged with the distribution, sale, manufacture, or possession, with intent to distribute, of crack within a one-half mile radius of a school would change drastically under the bill. Those who are now convicted are sentenced to not less than 10, but no more than 15 years, while under the new bill the sentence would be reduced to not more than 10 years.
As for other non-violent drug offenders, first time offenders of even the heavy stuff may not necessarily face jail time. Furthermore, while mandatory minimum sentencing for second and third offenses will remain in place, those convicted may be allowed to face probation or be released. What does this mean exactly? They will be fewer and fewer non-violent drug offenders in prison.
Like I said, wow.
The bill also aims to reduce recidivism rates and the number of parolees who are incarcerated for non-criminal (technical) parole violations, like missing a meeting with a parole officer or alcohol or drug use.
According to state Sen. Jake Knotts, "This bill is not soft on crime. It is good for the taxpayer and for law enforcement. This bill ensures we have prison space for violent offenders who should be locked up and alternatives to prison for the nonviolent offender who can remain a productive member of society. We need to reduce recidivism and keep the public safe and this bill will do that.”
Charleston's own Sen. Glenn McConnell had this to say: "“The Sentencing Reform Commission and this legislation is the result of the 2006 Criminal Justice Study Committee which found that our current sentencing practices put too many people behind bars and allowed violent offenders to stay on the street. This legislation will save taxpayers millions of dollars while ensuring that the worst criminals are put behind bars and that they stay there.”
I'm still trudging through the bill right now, but I'll get back to this later, you know, after I grab a beer.