Humane or Dangerous? Bill allowing state prisoners to attend family funerals returns to Senate
A similar bill passed the senate in 2016 on a 39-0 vote, but died once it made its way to the House of Representatives. The new bill was introduced to the Senate in Jan. where it was referred to the Comittee on Corrections and Penology.
By Brodie Putz
A bill that would allow some state prisoners to attend funerals of immediate family moved one step closer to passage Thursday after the Senate Committee on Corrections and Penology endorsed the measure unanimously.
“The bill is only constitutional,” said Sen. Karl B. Allen, D-Greenville, who introduced the bill. “It’s my belief that to deny someone from attending their father’s, mother’s, or family member’s funeral qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment. It’s inhumane.”
A similar bill, also introduced by Allen, passed the Senate in 2016 on a 39-0 vote, but died once it made its way to the House of Representatives.
“The biggest argument against it was financial,” Allen said. “We’ve since solved that by amending the bill to have the inmate or related third party pay for the transportation and security of the funeral service. I think we’ll see a lot of support for it once it climbs back up to the Senate.”
The corrections department ended the practice in 2005 because of the cost of providing transport and security.
The exact price of transportation and security would be dependent on a number of variables, but includes the hourly wage of two correctional officers and gas. How capable prisoners or their families are of covering these costs remains to be seen, however, as according to the South Carolina Department of Corrections, 86 percent of the state’s more than 20,000 inmates have a bank account balance less than $100, while 54 percent have less than $10.
Under the terms of the bill, inmates would be allowed to attend a family members’ funeral or visit them at a hospital only if they are deemed not to be a security risk to the public. It also stipulates that all relevant parties and victims of the inmate are to be notified prior to the funeral.
But Raymond Franks, a former S.C. Department of Corrections deputy warden, still has hesitations about the bill’s practicality.
“There are a lot of benefits from a humanitarian perspective,” said Franks. “But there’s a real problem at the financial and security perspectives. Even if the inmate is paying for it, it still requires a lot of manpower – manpower that could be used elsewhere. And it’s not all about dollars and cents. You have to consider the security of the community.”
The bill now heads to the Senate floor, it still needs to be passed by both the house and senate before it may be enacted by the governor.