Spartanburg Sheriff Wants to Reinstate Chain Gangs - WSPA.com

Spartanburg Sheriff Wants to Reinstate Chain Gangs

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Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright

Chain gangs - long a thing of the past in the Palmetto State - could make a resurgence in South Carolina if Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright gets his way.

Wright, an often vocal critic of the justice system, said Tuesday he's working with a state lawmaker to get a bill drafted that would reinstate the chain gang.

"I envision them not sitting around in the jails and getting fat on our dollar," Wright said Tuesday. "I envision them working six days a week, 12 hours a day and not being sentenced to 15 years at the taxpayers' expense."

Wright said he's working with S.C. Rep. Bill Chumley (R-Spartanburg) to research how much a statewide chain gang could save the taxpayers.

"If you really want to get the public's attention, tell them how much they'll save," Wright said.

The sheriff, who made national headlines after urging lawful women to carry concealed weapons, said chain gangs would do manual labor such as cutting highway grass, something the state spends millions on every year.

It'll pass through the legislature so long as "the tree huggers don't get in the way," Wright said.

Chain gangs were phased out in most of the country by the 1960s but made a brief resurgence in the mid-1990s during a time when politicians were championing to get tough on crime.

Alabama became the first state to reinstate chain gangs in 1995, but by the end of the decade scrutiny was mounting after a federal lawsuit questioning the program's legality was filed. A circuit court eventually found that Alabama's way of tying inmates to hitch posts violated the 8th Amendment, and the court ruled the program was cruel and unusual punishment.

A criminologist who works for USC Upstate in Spartanburg said the public will likely rally behind the idea of a chain gang, but she says the research proves the programs aren't effective.

"The studies have demonstrated that it doesn't have any rehabilitative effect for the inmates, and it actually brings some security risks to the public," said Dr. Reid Toth.

Like Toth, the S.C. Department of Corrections said Tuesday that if the S.C. General Assembly were reinstate the chain gang, there would be issues to examine such as expanding staff, security and armed supervision.

Wright says he doesn't want violent offenders being put on the chain gangs but rather people who commit lower-level crime, such as property offenses like larceny.

The state already has a prisoner work program where minimum-security inmates are farmed out to local counties where they perform light work, according to the S.C. DOC, but just a few hundred inmates are involved, and it's voluntary.

Wright's program wouldn't be voluntary and would employ thousands of convicted prisoners across the state.

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