COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – The South Carolina Department of Corrections has such a shortage of correctional officers that some prisons have to go on lockdown. The agency is short about 500 officers, according to Corrections director Bryan Stirling. It was short about 800 just two months ago, but has taken steps to hire more officers.
“As the economy improves, it’s very difficult to get people to come work at the Department of Corrections. We’ve seen that through the years,” he says. He says there’s an inverse relation between the state’s unemployment rate and the vacancy rate for correctional officers, as you can see in this graph.
Stirling says big job announcements, like Volvo building a plant in the Lowcountry, hurt the agency’s ability to attract applicants. The same thing happened with BMW in the Upstate.
The correctional officer shortage is affecting life inside the prisons, with some going on lockdown.
“What we do is we’ll lock down a little early,” Stirling says. “Generally, we shut the level 2 and 3 institutions down, which are our higher level security institutions, down around 10 o’clock. We lock them in their room until the next morning, until about 5 or 6 in the morning, to start feeding again. Sometimes at night in some institutions we have to do that at 6 o’clock, which is not optimal, so that’s four hours early. Sometimes we have to let them out to feed and then lock them back down during the day. It really just depends on who shows up for a shift. If we are at a deficit of officers, which we still are, it happens more than when you’re even because you can call people in.”
The agency has been able to lessen its shortage because state lawmakers and Gov. Nikki Haley approved a $1,500 raise for correctional officers. Stirling says he’ll ask for another $1,500 raise next year.
The agency has also shortened its recruiting and hiring process so, in some cases, applicants can get a hire date in one day. Capt. Gregory Pack, who’s in charge of recruiting at the agency, says in the past some applicants would wait weeks or months to find out whether they’d get a job, and many would have given up or found other work. Now, he says the changes are bringing in more applicants.
“Compared to a year or two ago, the numbers have dramatically increased to, say, about maybe another 20 percent increase on the numbers, or maybe higher,” he says.
The department is also recruiting more aggressively, with job fairs around the state and using television, radio, billboards, and social media to let people know the agency is hiring.
You can find out more about the potential jobs a www.doc.sc.gov