Security upgrades from SC Corrections cost more than expected

Projects to improve safety and security in South Carolina prisons could end up costing millions of dollars more than authorities initially estimated two years ago as work on these projects has been delayed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The SC Corrections Department had planned to spend about $ 93 million on prison upgrades. However, that same job – which includes replacing air conditioning systems, boilers, fire alarm systems, replacing cell locks, moving recreation yards, and installing new observation towers – is now estimated at $ 108.8 million due to the delay in labor caused by COVID-19 and procurement. chain problems. This is a 17% increase. 100 of the estimated costs.

The prison agency will go ahead with around $ 92 million in work at the moment, with the additional $ 16.8 million expected to occur when future dollars become available or through savings from the first set of projects, said. agency officials.

“We always deal with the most critical prisons to start with,” said Thomas Osmer, deputy director of administration in the Department of Corrections.

Numerous prison security needs were highlighted after a 2018 riot at Lee Correctional Institution that left seven inmates dead and 22 injured. Inmates using illegal cell phones were partly blamed for the riot.

The improvements to the prison were originally planned as part of the 2020-21 state budget. Work was suspended when the SC General Assembly kept spending levels at the same level as in fiscal year 2019-2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy and caused a decline of state revenues.

Due to the higher costs, the Department of Corrections is suspending some of its cell lock replacements, recreation work, and construction of observation towers.

“These latest projects were just one more year on the road, so they weren’t as critical as the ones at the top of the list,” Osmer said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not going to do these other projects, but we will do them as soon as the money is available.”

How quickly the job is completed depends on how quickly suppliers and contractors can obtain the necessary materials, as supply chain safeguards drive up prices.

State Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said the agency was factoring in two years of inflation in construction and material costs. Stirling also said work could be delayed if and when an inmate tests positive for COVID, requiring the closure of a prison unit or project.

“It’s going to take a little while, a little runway to land this plane,” Stirling said. “We are just predicting what good businessmen would do, which is that there will be inflation involved.”

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Joseph Bustos is a state government and state political journalist. A graduate of Northwestern University, he previously worked in Illinois covering government and politics. He has won reportage awards in Illinois and Missouri. He moved to South Carolina in November 2019.
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