To the Contrary

November 22, 2008

Releasing inmates early

Jon Ozmint's plan to lop a couple of months off the terms of nearly all prisoners so he can close down prisons and save money is not a responsible one. But the Legislature's unwillingness to deal with dangerously underfunded prisons in a responsible way has made this the least irresponsible option he has.

"Responsible" is beyond Mr. Ozmint's reach; that requires legislative action -- such as changing our sentencing laws so that all but the violent prisoners are sent through alternative programs (which are substantially cheaper, and have substantially higher success rates). This would begin to save money almost immediately, as prisoners began to finish their terms and be released faster than new ones were brought in.

"Responsible" also could mean providing enough money to hire enough guards to keep prisoners safe from each other and us safe from them. We understand why legislators don't like this option. Frankly, we don't consider it a smart option: Better to use tax dollars to keep people from becoming prisoners to begin with, through better education, job training and drug treatment programs, than to pay for their 24/7 care. State revenues are plunging, and nobody wants to lay off teachers or troopers or cut off needed drugs for poor children in order to pay for more prison guards. For that matter, we understand why, even when money was coming in at or above projections, legislators preferred to fund those services that non-criminals use, rather than sending more money to the prisons. ...

Legislators worry that supporting alternative sentences will make them look soft on crime. But as Mr. Ozmint's desperation proposal illustrates, we've reached a point financially where there will have to be fewer people in our prisons.

Senior fraud

Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer's proposal to create a program that will help the state's senior citizens avoid fraudulent businesses is a well-intentioned idea that may be coming at the most inopportune time. ...

Great idea, if not for the budget shortfalls being experienced by the state. At a time when state agencies are being asked to make severe cuts to their budgets equaling 7 percent of the total state budget, it's inappropriate to be creating new programs that aren't absolutely necessary. ...

No one doubts Bauer's commitment to helping this state's seniors, and there might be an appropriate time for South Carolina to enact Senior Shield or a similar program. For now, though, as the state struggles with decreasing revenues and a tight economy, it should make sure it's not instituting new programs that duplicate services.

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