A sweeping change to South Carolina's sentencing and parole guidelines approved in June puts the emphasis on rehabilitation for drug possession and other charges, while also increasing penalties on violent crimes. The result: fewer prisoners will be in jail for drug offenses.
The broad swath of changes — the result of a two-year study — is expected to save the state $400 million in prison costs. Nearly half of the state's prisoners are behind bars for nonviolent crimes, including drug charges and burglaries, at an average annual cost of $14,500 a year per inmate, according to the Associated Press, compared to $2,000 a year for supervised probation.
Most changes went into effect earlier this summer. The probation and parole changes take effect Jan. 1.
In regards to drugs, the new law:
• Provides for suspended sentencing for a first-time conviction on drug possession.
• Makes probation or parole possible for subsequent convictions, including credit for good behavior.
• Removes the often criticized disparity between sentencing for crack and powder cocaine.
• Adds additional fines for drug offenses. The money collected will be used for court-appointed drug treatment programs.
• Slightly changes the minimum amount considered to be trafficking in ephedrine and pseodophedrine (drugs used for manufacturing meth, ecstasy, and other illicit drugs), lowering it from 12 grams to nine grams. The new law requires prison time but removes a minimum three-year sentence.
• States that defendants won't be additionally charged unless they actually knew they were dealing in close proximity to a school or playground.
• Increases the suspension of a driver's license for drug convictions from six months to one year for everything but pot.
• Refers (pun intended) to marijuana, instead of the previously used marihuana.