Probation and parole agency seeks more agents
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina's probation and parole agency has succeeded in cutting down the number of people who return to prison, but the department needs more money to fund agents and continue that progress, its director told state lawmakers Wednesday.
"We are in the business of supervising and actually doing the business of probation and parole at such a high level ... that it is impacting the number of people that go back to the Department of Corrections," Probation, Pardon and Parole Services Director Kela Thomas told a House panel.
Last year, Thomas said, the state's prisons agency saved more than $1 million because 535 people under her department's supervision didn't end up returning to prison.
"Something is working," she told lawmakers.
Officials say the 2010 sentencing reform law is helping cut down on the number of nonviolent offenders in the state's prisons, but the parole agents that oversee them are overwhelmed with one of the highest caseloads in the country.
Currently, each parole agent has an average of 93 cases, Thomas said Wednesday. According to Scott Norton, one of Thomas' deputy directors, that ratio was 1 to 59 more than a decade ago and has steadily crept upward as the agency's budget has dwindled.
Ideally, Norton said, that ratio would be no higher than 1 to 75. In her executive budget, Gov. Nikki Haley has recommended that legislators pay for an additional 25 parole agents.
The agency also wants six employees for an inmate treatment program and two employees to reduce the backlog of parole-eligible inmates awaiting evaluation. But Thomas said the new agents were her top priority.
"Our funding has stagnated, which means that we cannot provide the types of tools that offenders need to be successful," she said.
On Tuesday, Corrections Director Bill Byars told the same House panel that his maximum-security prisons were "maxed out" and needed more security measures, asking the Legislature to fund upgrades including cameras, metal detectors and guard towers.