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Violent SC inmates mistakenly released from prison

Officials say the South Carolina DOC released inmates well before the end of their sentences for two years

Emily Bohatch and Tom Barton
The State (Columbia, S.C.)

The S.C. Department of Corrections for two years released inmates well before the end of their sentences, officials at the department confirmed Friday.

Ten inmates were mistakenly let go because of an error made when calculating the prisoners’ sentences, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Chrysti Shain said. She confirmed the early releases after an inquiry from The State.

Of the 10, four have yet to be recaptured, Shain said. The Department of Corrections is still working with the S.C. Court Administration to take steps to re-incarcerate them.

SCDC has taken no steps to notify the public at large of the inmates’ accidental release because the department knew the inmates’ locations and was working through the court systems to get them back. The department did, however, contact the victims and notify them when the offenders had been let out of prison, Shain said.

“If there were victims that would be potentially harmed because they were released, they should be notified,” said state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, who sits on the Senate Corrections and Penology Committee.

Most of the inmates were facing time for drug sentences, which had been handed down between 2009 and 2017, Shain said.

Shealy, who spoke with corrections officials, added that other crimes included burglary and domestic violence.

The last of the inmates were released in error in 2018.

The mistaken release dates came from a miscalculation of sentences for the inmates, who were only supposed to be eligible to go home after serving 85 percent of their sentences, Shain said. The error was discovered in February while the department was reviewing records for parole purposes.

Upon realizing their mistakes, prison officials contacted the court system to get warrants for the arrests of the inmates, Shain said.

“SCDC has done a systematic review of its practices and has enhanced the system to make sure these types of errors will not happen again,” Shain wrote in an email.

A spokesman for S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s office issued a statement on the mistake, saying the office is “aware of the issue and is confident that SCDC has done everything possible to resolve the situation. “

“Out of 9,000 to 10,000 inmates who are released each year, 10 were released early,” Shealy said. “It was human error. That’s not an excuse. It’s an explanation.”

And Shealy said she does not see a need for legislative action. Shealy said the miscalculations were made nearly a decade ago with an antiquated system that has since been updated.

“Director Stirling is doing a good job and has done things to the system to make it a better system … and is working to get these people back so they can serve out the rest of their sentences,” Shealy said.

State Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, said he was unaware of the premature releases, but said he has “every belief and faith” that the department of corrections will rectify the mistake.

“If a mistake has been made, Bryan Stirling will correct it. I think he’s the best director they’ve had in 50 years,” said Harpootlian, who also serves on the Senate Corrections and Penology Committee.

He was also cautious about alerting the public, concerned that could tip off the convicts that their release was a mistake and are being sought by authorities.


©2019 The State (Columbia, S.C.)