S.C. inspector general: state vehicle use by prison wardens may be big waste
COLUMBIA — The warden at an Upstate prison travels more than 140 miles round trip to work each day, costing S.C. taxpayers’ thousands in potentially wasteful spending, according to a state watchdog agency.
By the numbers
State spending on warden vehicles for the fiscal year ending June 30:
the number of cars used by the wardens at each of the state’s 27 prisons
The situation is not unique: wardens at each of the state’s 27 correctional institutions are assigned state vehicles with gas paid to commute to and from their prisons and for other work-related travel.
Several of the wardens travel similarly long distances to work, according to a report by South Carolina’s outgoing inspector general, Jim Martin.
Martin, tasked by Gov. Nikki Haley with uncovering waste, fraud and abuse in state government, said the practice is extremely concerning and may be squandering taxpayers’ money.
“My reaction was, my lord, look what it’s costing the state,” he said.
The state has spent more than $100,000 on gas, maintenance and insurance for the vehicles during the fiscal year that ends June 30, according to the S.C. Department of Corrections.
Martin estimated that the cost of gas to take warden Tim Riley, who lives in the Columbia suburb of Irmo, to the Tyger River Correctional Facility in Enoree, adds up to more than $6,000 per year.
He submitted his report on the matter to the Corrections Department earlier this year after receiving an anonymous complaint about management practices at the Upstate prison.
Martin suggested alternatives to assigning all wardens state vehicles, such as allowing prison leaders to use state pool vehicles when needed in emergencies.
But the agency took issue with the report and largely rejected Martin’s concerns, saying wardens need to have state vehicles at all times.
The Corrections Department said in a formal response to the Inspector General’s Office that it appeared Martin didn’t understand the full responsibilities of a warden.
“SCDC is responsible for housing and transporting some of the most dangerous citizens in South Carolina,” the agency’s response said. “All are convicted felons! This is a never-ceasing responsibility that places an extremely high degree of accountability on wardens.”
The agency said wardens must respond to all emergencies at their prisons, such as inmate uprisings, and can be called on to assist at other facilities.
And the alternative transportation methods Martin suggested could lead to slower response times, according to the SCDC.
“Emergency response vehicles are not a luxury,” the agency’s response said. “They are a core and basic need.”
But the Corrections Department acknowledged that only two emergency situations have occurred at the Tyger River prison in the past five years.
That scarcity led Martin to conclude there was “little justification” to provide Riley an all-expenses paid vehicle.
Corrections spokesman Clark Newsom said providing wardens state vehicles is crucial.
“These guys can be called on at any time during the middle of the night or whenever,” he said. “It can save time and perhaps save lives for them to be able to get out at a moment’s notice.”
But another factor beyond response times is at play in the agency’s policy.
According the SCDC, the rural locations of state prisons built in the 1980s and 1990s make it difficult to find local, qualified wardens.
It became necessary to hire people who lived in other areas of the state but were willing to commute, the corrections agency said.
The SCDC told Martin it would take his recommendations “under advisement,” and would consider prospective wardens’ proximity to a prioson into account during future interviews.
Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172 and follow him on Twitter @stephenlargen.