By Sarita Chourey –
COLUMBIA – South Carolina’s Department of Corrections is trying to boost its own workforce, while trying to get offenders who are incarcerated ready to earn a paycheck when they’re released. Sometimes the solutions are simple. One young man in South Carolina’s youthful offender program refused to apply for a job. “We thought it was because he couldn’t read. But he just couldn’t see,” Bryan Stirling, director of the S.C. Department of Corrections, told a House panel Tuesday. “We took him to get some eyeglasses. And guess what? He applied and did fine. He was embarrassed he couldn’t see.” The mentoring program assigns offenders, convicted at 25 or younger, a mentor who checks in on them to keep them off drugs and out of illegal activities.
“A lot of these young men, they just don’t have anybody to go to,” said Stirling. Corrections officials also pointed to what they dubbed a “one-stop-shop” housed in the Manning prison in Columbia, which offers interview training, resume help, keyboarding, life skills coaching, vocational training and help from the S.C. Department of Workforce and Employment. “It’s a phenomenal program, and we’re lucky to have it,” said Sandy Barrett, a corrections official. A three-man budget subcommittee listened to the agency’s request Tuesday, which included the director’s outline of ways the state could help the department hold onto its own workforce. Retaining and attracting corrections employees is a challenge that grows when the state unemployment rate dips or when a huge company opens up in a part of the state where prisons also draw their workforce.
Stirling pointed to the new Volvo presence in the Low country. “That’s a challenge for us because we’ve got Lieber and Macdougall (prisons), and (Volvo) is going to be hiring at a much higher rate and probably European benefits, which is going to be challenging to us,” said Stirling. “That’s why we’re asking to try to get ahead of that.” He said the corrections department loses 50 percent of its employees within the first year, and the staff-to-offender ratio is as extreme as 1-to-200. The agency is seeking raises for employees and has already loosened its hiring policies, a change that’s estimated to allow an additional 500 people to be considered for employment at the Department of Corrections. Among those policies was a restriction on someone working in the agency, if a family member is incarcerated.