South Carolina Department of Corrections

A Chronology of Major Events/Developments

Major events were selected to illustrate the evolution of the adult correctional system in South Carolina - to reflect on contemporary criminal justice priorities/issues, and policy directions of the Legislature relating to offender punishment and inmate management.

1866: Establishment of the State Penitentiary
In 1866, the South Carolina Legislature passed an act to transfer the control of convicted and sentenced felons from the counties to the State, and appropriated $65,000 for construction and maintenance of a State Penitentiary. Thomas B. Lee was named architect, engineer and first superintendent.

1866- 1900: State Penitentiary Management and Operations

After Thomas B. Lee, seven superintendents headed the State Penitentiary during this period. Inmate labor was used for various prison industries and construction projects across the state. Prison industries consisted of machine shops, carpentry, blacksmith, weaving, shoe and tailoring shops. Inmate labor was used in the construction of Clemson, Winthrop and Claflin colleges, as well as the State hospital. Farming operations to support the Penitentiary began at the site of what is now the Wateree River Correctional Institution.

In January 1869, prisoner count at the State Penitentiary totaled 201. At the end of 1900, this number increased to 795 (a 300% increase over 30 years).

1900 - 1930: Emergence of Dual Prison System in South Carolina

The State Penitentiary continued to operate and expand:
  • Another farming operation began on the site of the current Walden Correctional Institution
  • Capital punishment was ushered in with the installation of the electric chair in 1912
  • A chair-caning factory was added to prison industries; and inmates began manufacturing license plates and road signs
  • An inmate classification system was initiated
  • In 1927, the Richards building for female prisoners was constructed at the Penitentiary


Local Prisons and Jails in full Operation by 1930:

County supervisors assumed full authority to choose to retain convicts for road construction or to transfer them to the State. “Chain gangs” worked throughout the state.
Because of the retention of inmates by local prisons/jails, the State Penitentiary only housed 687 offenders in September 1930 - a decrease of 108 inmates from the count of 795 in 1900, 30 years earlier.

1930 - 1960: State Penitentiary Co-existing with Chain Gangs.
1937 - Construction began on a separate facility to house female prisoners only. This same facility, Stevenson Correctional Institution, also served as SCDC’s first pre-release center.
1949 - A bookbindery was added to prison industries.

During this 30-year period, the State Penitentiary population increased from 687 in 1930 to 2,078 in 1960 (tripled in 30 years).

1960: Creation of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC)
Abuses within the prison system, particularly the use of convict labor on private property as a form of political reward, prompted Governor Ernest “Fritz” Hollings to call for the creation of a state agency. The South Carolina Department of Corrections was established in 1960 with Colonel Manning as its first Director. A State Board of Corrections was created at the same time to oversee the functions of SCDC, with a member each representing a judicial circuit.

The SCDC inmate count in FY1960-61 averaged 2,044 - 1,933 males and 111 females.

1960-1973: Expansions in Facilities and Emphasis on Rehabilitation Programs


Ellis MacDougall, Director 1962 - 1968
During his tenure, he implemented various programs and policy changes, reflecting the contemporary focus on offender rehabilitation. Shortly after his appointment, he removed chains and stripes from uniforms, and established inmate education programs. Prison guards received more training, and became “correctional officers”.

New institutions, designated for specific purposes/programs, were constructed to meet the different demands of a rising inmate population - separate housing facilities for female and young offenders; reception and evaluation center for diagnostic and placement decisions; and community pre-release centers to prepare offenders for their reintegration into society upon release.

Appointment of William D. Leeke as director in 1968
Following his appointment, Leeke continued the expansion of programs and facilities to provide for the rehabilitation of younger offenders and the re-integration of offenders in the community. During his tenure, issues relating to the dual prison system (such as difficulties in coordination and long term planning) also surfaced. Under Leeke's leadership, SCDC published two research studies (under federal funding): Emerging Rights of the Confined (1972), and Collective Violence in Correctional Institutions: A Search for Causes (1973).

1973: Adult Corrections Study
In 1973, the Office of Criminal Justice Planning (the predecessor of the Division of Public Safety) in the Governor's Office, conducted the South Carolina Adult Corrections Study. It recommended the elimination of the dual prison system, placing long-term adult offenders under state jurisdiction. It also proposed that inmates be placed close to their home communities, under a regional administration of facilities and programs.

Inmate count at SCDC in June 1973 totaled 3,375.

1974: Consolidation of the Adult Corrections System
In June 1974, the South Carolina General Assembly passed legislation to give the SCDC jurisdiction over all adult offenders with sentences exceeding three months. Consequently, SCDC inmate population grew significantly in 1975 and 1976. On June 30, 1974, SCDC inmate totaled 3,646. On June 30, 1976, the number rose to 6,840, representing an 87% increase over a 2-year period.

1974-1994 Dramatic Inmate Population Increases, Prison Overcrowding, and Objective Classification System

Rising crime along with the elimination of the dual prison system resulted in severe overcrowding in state facilities. This period witnessed an extensive prison building program - the opening of 18 facilities, ranging from a reception and evaluation center to a psychiatric hospital, and from small less than 100 bed community pre-release centers to large high security prisons housing over 1,000 inmates.

Besides increasing prison beds, legislative/policy initiatives were undertaken to divert qualified non-violent offenders from prisons, so that tougher punishment and longer imprisonment could be applied to repeat offenders.

Legislation and Programs to Reduce Prison Population

1977 - Extended Work Release Program was authorized by the Legislature to allow qualified offenders to live and work in the community under intensive supervision during the final phases of their sentences.
1978 - Litter Control Act was passed, establishing an Earned Work Credit Program - for productive work in prison, inmates are allowed to earn time credits towards their sentences.
1982 - Community Corrections Act was enacted to establish the Supervised Furlough Program (carefully screened inmates may live and work in local communities under supervision) and modified the initial parole eligibility of non-violent offenders (reduction from one-third to one-fourth of their sentences).
1983 - Prison Overcrowding Powers Act authorized the Governor to declare a state of emergency when certain conditions of overcrowding exist and to order the advancement of release of qualified offenders.
1986 - Omnibus Criminal Justice Improvements Act was passed to modify the procedures allowed in 1983 for early release -- rather than the advancement of release dates, the 1986 provisions set the number of prisoners to be released early. This 1986 Bill also modified the eligibility requirements for parole, supervised furlough program.
1987 - Shock Probation Program was initiated.
1990 - Shock Probation Program was changed to Shock Incarceration Program, allowing SCDC to select offenders for program assignment.

Tougher Punishment for Violent/Repeat Offenders
1986 - The Omnibus Criminal Justice Improvements Act contained these provisions: 30-year parole eligibility for murder; habitual offenders may be sentenced to life without parole; multiple violent offenders may not be eligible for parole considerations; 5 year flat sentence for firearms; and no parole for drug trafficking.

Class Action Suit Over Prison Conditions
Prison overcrowding problems were the focus in two major lawsuits during this era:
  • Mattison versus South Carolina Department of Corrections - filed in 1976, consent decree signed in 1978.
  • Nelson versus Leeke - filed in 1982; decree signed in 1985.

As a result of both decrees, the South Carolina Department of Corrections, with support from the Governor's Office, the General Assembly, the State Budget and Control Board, and the State Attorney's Office, agreed to comply with the terms of the consent decree to eliminate overcrowding and make other improvements to include the following: higher staffing level; increased staff training; facility upgrade, procedures to hear and adjudicate inmate complaints; and the development/implementation of an objective inmate classification system. Since the Consent decree for Nelson vs. Leeke was signed, the General Assembly authorized funding for the construction of 5 new prisons, a replacement facility for the Central Correctional Institution (formerly the State Penitentiary), and other smaller lower security units. Upon the release of inmate Nelson and the retirement of Director William Leeke, Nelson vs. Leeke was substituted by Plyler vs. Evatt.

Development and Implementation of an Objective Inmate Classification
Following the terms of Nelson vs. Leeke, SCDC conducted empirical data analysis to develop an objective classification system - an inmate's security/custody and program assignments are determined by his/her potential risks to commit infractions or escape; no single criterion would be used; and a similar criteria would be applied consistently across the inmate population.

1994 - 2000: Tightened Inmate Management and Truth-in-Sentencing for Violent Offenders

Tightened Inmate Management
Following the Governor’s appointment of Michael Moore to be SCDC director, and in line with contemporary national trends of tougher penalties for criminals, SCDC implemented sweeping changes in the management of prisons/inmates:
  • Inmates were required to wear uniforms
  • Stricter grooming
  • Controlled movement within prisons - to prevent congregation of large groups of inmates in prison yards
  • Enforcing work ethics among inmates
  • Young offenders were required to attend education programs and participate in boot camp programs
  • Supervised furlough program was suspended
  • Violent offenders were banned from work release programs
  • Shock incarceration program was discontinued

    1995 Crime Bill: Truth-in-Sentencing for Violent Offenders
    Following a national trend to abolish parole and adopt truth-in-sentencing, in its 1995 Crime Bill, the South Carolina General Assembly designated felonies, punishable by 20 years or more sentences, to be “no parole offenses” - i.e., the offender cannot be released until credits equal 100% of sentence and at least 85% of sentence has been served. Upon release, the inmate must also satisfy up to (indeterminate) 2 years of community supervision. The law also stipulates that such sentencing applies only to crimes committed on or after January 1, 1996.

    Closure of Plyler vs. Evatt
    In 1995, the Prison Litigation Reform Act was passed, allowing correctional agencies to ask the Federal Court for relief from previously entered consent decrees under certain circumstances. In June 1996, SCDC became the first state correctional agency to utilize provisions of this act to terminate its consent decree under Plyler vs. Evatt. This termination allowed SCDC to modify and restructure its facility operations without oversight by the federal court.

2001-2003, Budget Crisis and Shrinkage of Facilities/Program
Following a significant decline in state revenues, SCDC’s budget was reduced severely – with a 21% reduction between 2000 and 2003, and the greatest percentage reduction of any correctional system in the country. As a result, two institutions - Givens and State Park Correctional Institutions, were closed. SCDC also reduced its staff, from attrition, by over 1,000 employees. In 2003, to absorb further budget cuts, SCDC implemented a reduction-in-force plan, whereby 148 non-security staff departed from SCDC employment.