COLUMBIA — In selecting her chief of staff to be the next director of the state’s prison system, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Thursday that Bryan Stirling’s leadership on issues including the state’s hacking scandal showed he possesses the poise needed for the post.

“He got us through what was just a tough year, whether it was the hacking, whether it was the budget, whether it was the legislative year,” Haley said during a news conference at the Statehouse. “And he did it with true leadership. He did it with true courage. But he did it with such balance.”

Stirling, 43, has been Haley’s chief of staff for about a year. With undergraduate and law degrees from the University of South Carolina, he came to her administration from the Office of the Attorney General, where he served as a deputy under top prosecutor Alan Wilson and his predecessor, Henry McMaster.

It’s the experience he gained prosecuting cases on that level, Stirling said, that will serve him well in the top job at the Department of Corrections.

“I think I saw one side of the criminal justice system, and obviously this is a continuation of that,” said Stirling, adding he would also draw on his experience monitoring legislation, including sentencing reform.

Stirling also said he wanted to continue to reduce the number of prisoners in South Carolina’s system and, if possible, close unneeded facilities.

As of Tuesday, there were 21,428 inmates in South Carolina’s prisons, according to the Corrections Department. The number of prisoners has dropped by about 500 over the past year, according to the agency.

Both Haley and Stirling stressed the importance of working toward making people productive members of society when they leave South Carolina’s prisons.

“If we invest in those individuals when they are behind the fence, we are saving money, because they don’t come back,” Haley said. “They want to live a productive life. They don’t know how.”

Stirling takes over Oct. 1 for Bill Byars, who is retiring after years in public service, including stints at Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice. Byars, who suffered a stroke in June 2011 but returned to work, was a Family Court judge for 10 years before Gov. Mark Sanford appointed him to lead DJJ in 2003.

Haley said she had not yet named a replacement for Stirling as chief of staff.

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