- Associated Press - Thursday, April 3, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina is closing one of its prisons, officials said Thursday, citing a decrease in the number of inmates returning to the corrections system.

Corrections Department Director Bryan Stirling told The Associated Press that the Campbell Pre-Release Center is beginning the process of closing. Uniformed officers are transitioning to other jobs throughout the prison system, and inmates are being moved to other facilities, he said.

Campbell is part of the vast, multiprison complex at the agency’s Columbia headquarters. Opening its doors in 1975, it is a minimum-security prison for male inmates who have served most of their sentences and have the opportunity to participate in work-release programs.

The facility provides inmate labor crews to agencies including the South Carolina Department of Transportation, South Carolina Forestry Commission, Department of Juvenile Justice and the Statehouse. Campbell also provides an officer-supervised litter crew that picks up trash along interstate highways.

It’s some of that work, Stirling said, combined with an agency-wide reduction in the number of inmates returning to prison that led to Campbell’s closure.

“Closing Campbell Pre-Release will consolidate pre-release programs and services and allow us to reinvest in security at SCDC by adding contraband officers at the Broad River complex and filling vacancies in other institutions,” Stirling said.

The rate of repeat offenders returning to prison, recidivism, dropped from about 31 percent in 2008 to 27.5 percent in 2010, Stirling said.

System-wide, there are 21,352 people in South Carolina’s state prisons, according to the agency’s website as of Thursday morning. The average daily inmate count has been in steady decline since 2010, when it was 24,040, to 22,088 last year, according to the agency.

Stirling attributed some of those drops to sweeping sentencing reform, signed into law in 2010 and designed to put fewer nonviolent offenders in prison on minor offenses. The reforms focused on helping inmates turn their lives around through improved oversight and training while on parole, and proponents said it would ensure there is prison space for high-risk, violent criminals, who will serve longer prison terms.

“Sentencing reform is a significant factor in the reduction of recidivism rates, specifically legislation that deals with technical parole and probation revocators,” Stirling said, referring to people whose release may be revoked on a technicality.

As of Thursday morning, Corrections’ website listed 139 inmates as being housed at Campbell. Stirling said they would be moved to other low-level facilities. The work-release and labor crew programs based at Campbell will be transferred to other institutions in Columbia.

Campbell’s officers may transfer to vacancies at other prisons around the state, while others will stay on to work as contraband officers at other facilities on the Columbia complex, he said.

There are seven other minimum-security men’s prisons throughout South Carolina, housing a total of 2,380 inmates, according to Corrections.

Corrections officials said it would take several months to close Campbell fully. According to the agency, the last prison to close in South Carolina was the Watkins Pre-Release Center - a facility similar to Campbell - in 2012.


Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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