Prison Riot South Carolina (copy) (copy)

A prison staffer walks a fence line at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville.

Predictive analytics in hiring has come to the South Carolina Department of Corrections. It’s the science of predicting the futures of would-be hires based on their responses to a set of “yes” or “no” questions and a mashup of data both public and private, including what might turn up in a background check.

If you fail the test, you’re cut from the applicant pool.

The Georgia Department of Correction swears by Verensics, the Atlanta-based vendor that since mid-March has helped the S.C. Department of Corrections identify 55 of 461 candidates to eliminate from consideration.

S.C. prisons Director Bryan Stirling hopes Verensics will help him win what has been a losing battle in hiring and retaining correctional officers. He’s pulled all the traditional levers, boosting average pay to nearly $40,000, including overtime, offering generous incentives for in-house recruiting and reaching out to candidates nationwide, among other things.

Still, about a third of the 2,350 officer positions at 21 prisons remain unfilled. Overall, nearly 1,400 of 6,100 full-time jobs remain unfilled.

In other words, staffing conditions and the potential for violence are about the same or slightly worse than they were when seven inmates were killed in a riot at Lee prison last year as evidenced by a stabbing death at Broad River prison Aug. 5.

We’re for whatever works, and compared to other forms of spending related to hiring, Verensics comes relatively cheap — about $60,000 a year.

How the screening works is proprietary, but we do know it was developed by a former Israeli intelligence officer and is based on a customizable algorithm. It’s fast. The test typically takes only about 30 minutes and results are instantly available. But most importantly, Verensics touts its ability to reduce turnover and firings by avoiding potentially troubling candidates on the front end.

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Yes, it’s a little spooky because it’s a cloud-based system that could be vulnerable. No one would want a Verensics failure following him or her around, so it’s important to keep a lid on the results.

“This test will tell you: ‘Are you going to bring in contraband? Are you made for this job? Do you have the wherewithal to work a very difficult job under sometimes very difficult circumstances,’” Mr. Stirling told a Senate panel this week.

Kyle Caldwell, the head of recruiting, called Verensics a potential “game-changer.” According to the company, Georgia corrections officials, using questions related to gang affiliation, bribery and abuse, reduced firings 54% and eliminated 212 job candidates in six months.

Lawmakers should be encouraged by Mr. Stirling’s willingness to add to his toolbox. But they must also keep a close eye on the many working parts of a system responsible for 18,504 inmates as of Wednesday, down from 19,559 last year and consistently down over the past eight years from a high of about 24,000.

Sentencing reform, rejected last year by the Legislature, would keep the ball rolling by paroling more inmates. And that should be the larger goal, shrinking the entire system in a safe and responsible way.