Facts and Policy Reforms for South Carolina
South Carolina’s prison population increased threefold between 1980 and 2009, when it hit a peak of 23,486 people.
By June 2018, it had declined to 18,958, partially due to reforms enacted by the state. Still, in 2016, nearly 2 percent of the state’s adult population was under some form of correctional control.
The number of people admitted to prison every year declined by 17 percent between 2014 and 2018, but nearly a quarter of the 7,577 people imprisoned in 2018 had been convicted of a drug offense. Such offenses were the most common among all admissions that year. Despite the overall decline in admissions, the number of people imprisoned for drug offenses have remained relatively constant, meaning that they’re making up a growing proportion of people admitted to prison every year. There were also 365 people sent to prison for traffic offenses in 2018, accounting for 5 percent of admissions overall.
Unsurprisingly, South Carolina’s incarceration crisis has had a particularly severe impact on people of color, especially Black people. In 2017, Black South Carolinians made up only 26 percent of the state’s adult population, but comprised 61 percent of the state’s prison population. The number of women in prison in South Carolina has also skyrocketed, increasing nearly fivefold between 1980 and 2016. More than half of women in the state’s prisons were classified as mentally ill in 2018.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
South Carolina can dramatically reduce its incarcerated population by implementing just a few sensible reforms:
- Putting funds into a holistic public defender service program that goes beyond the current underfinanced and overstressed system.
- More investment into pretrial intervention and diversion programs for people who could benefit from mental health and drug abuse treatment rather than incarceration.
- Decriminalization of drug, traffic, and other offenses.
- Ending the practice of setting the highest possible bail for people charged with a crime.
- Eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and reducing sentencing ranges for drug and other offenses.
- Were South Carolina to follow these and other reforms outlined in the ACLU’s Smart Justice Blueprint, by 2025 it could have 9,249 fewer people in prison, saving over $400 million dollars that could be spent on schools, roads, and other services for state residents.
For more information, along with a detailed breakdown of South Carolina’s prison population and the reforms needed to reduce it, click here.