There’s a visible effort underway right now in South Carolina and Puerto Rico to recruit prison workers. Right now, more than 650 positions remain unfilled in the state.
You may have noticed billboards in the Upstate and around the state. The Director of the Department of Corrections, Bryan Stirling, told us they’re spending close to $1 million in advertising to recruit and retain workers, including corrections officers, nurses and social workers.
They’re also working to increase salaries and pay overtime and bonuses to their employees, something they hope will attract more potential employees.
“Our salaries are now getting in the range where they are competitive. We still have a ways to go. So for the viewers in your area, they would start at around $34,000 to $37,000, depending on what institution they went to. And then after six months, they’d move up another $700 to $1,000,” said Stirling.
The need to fill the positions is great. Violence among inmates has increased over the years. According to the Department of Corrections, the number of inmates killed behind bars in 2017 was 12, up from five inmate deaths in 2016, and 3 inmate deaths in 2015.
Stirling said, “It’s very concerning. That’s why you’re seeing these efforts, and that is why you’ve seen us go to the General Assembly and ask for more money. That’s why you’re seeing us spend over $1 million in advertising this year.”
Those who work with people recently released from prison tell us, they’re hearing about programs being cut behind bars because of a lack of prison staff. Jerry Blassingame is the Executive Director of Soteria in Greenville.
“The system is having to do what they’re having to do. But it’s not good,” said Blassingame. “We’re taking people who have committed a crime, we’re locking them up for 23 hours a day sometimes and we’re not giving them any resources.”
Director Stirling said that keeping programs in prison is important, but they need the staff to do it.
“Programs are canceled and folks will say ‘why does that matter’? Well, it matters in the institutions for the safety of the staff and the officers,” said Stirling. “Just over 80 or 82 percent of these folks get out in under five years, so our main goal is public safety, but we also have to rehabilitate these folks and that is part of public safety. Rehabilitation so they won’t come back to prison.”
If you’re interested in applying to work for the Department of Corrections, you can find more information here.
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