I was WRONG in something I said about Nikki’s speech; in fact, she deserves praise on that point

OK, I still haven’t run down every detail of this, but I’m about to run to lunch and I don’t want this correction to wait another minute.

Cindi Scoppe brought to my attention this morning a serious error in what I all-too-hastily wrote last night about Nikki Haley’s State of the State speech. More about haste, and the problems with blogging as opposed to newspaper writing, in a moment. But first, what Cindi said:

I think you misread her point on prison costs: She was promoting lowering the number of prisoners, through a reduction in recidivism (“Think of the savings we’ll realize if we aren’t constantly welcoming back behind bars those prisoners who finish out their initial terms.”). If you really analyze this, it was one of the riskiest things she said (and I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way), because she was essentially promising that Bill Byars was going to be able to substantially reduce the recidivism rate. I hope she’s right, but I’m not holding my breath.

In going back and more carefully reading the text, I think Cindi is completely right, and I was completely wrong. Here’s the passage I misread before:

Over the last eight years, Jon Ozmint did a tremendous job running our prisons at the lowest cost per prisoner in the nation. My challenge to the judge is to take Mr. Ozmint’s reforms and move them one step further. His goal will not be just to produce the cheapest meals, but to reduce the number of meals he serves each day. And we can’t do that unless we lower the number of inmates that come back into the system.

The cost savings to the taxpayers of this state would be substantial. The immediate savings would be approximately $6 million in administrative costs alone. But the real dollars will come on the back end, when the judge fulfils his ultimate goal, the reduction of our recidivism rate.

The state of South Carolina pays more than $16,000 annually to incarcerate a single prisoner. We spend more each year on a prisoner than we do on a student. Think of the savings we’ll realize if we aren’t constantly welcoming back behind bars those prisoners who finish out their initial terms.

And think of the cultural impact. It’s immeasurable.

And here are the ill-considered words I wrote in my misunderstanding:

How’d you like this part? “The state of South Carolina pays more than $16,000 annually to incarcerate a single prisoner. We spend more each year on a prisoner than we do on a student. Think of the savings we’ll realize if we aren’t constantly welcoming back behind bars those prisoners who finish out their initial terms.” Usually, when a politician says that, he or she is suggesting that we need to do more to make sure kids get a good education so they don’t end up in prison, which IS more expensive. Nikki says it to justify spending less than our current lowest-in-the-nation amount per prisoner. One way she’d do this? Well, we’re already spending rock-bottom per meal, so we’ll just serve fewer meals. If you think this is a great idea, there’s nothing I can say to you. Except that there is a danger to all of us in running undermanned, underguarded prisons full of starved prisoners. But let’s move on.

Well, kick me for a stupid idiot. The governor wasn’t proposing to violate the Eighth Amendment by starving the prisoners. She was proposing to have fewer prisoners. And there is hardly a more laudable goal that she can have than that. Cindi’s also right to question how easily Bill Byars can deliver on that, but it’s certainly the right intent.

I shouldn’t have made this mistake. I even remember thinking as I typed it, “I can’t see Bill Byars being a party to starving prisoners,” but I suppose I thought she was saying this without checking with him. Or something. Bottom line, I wasn’t thinking enough.

And that’s one of the problems with blogging — or with MY blogging. I don’t often make mistakes like this one (or as blatant as this one), but the potential is always there. Partly because of the fact that I have a full-time job of which the blog is not a part. But also partly because this medium doesn’t promote the same kind of rigor that my old job did. I have to learn to inject that rigor in spite of the things that dictate against it, but I guess I’m still learning.

Last night, after I FINALLY, at the end of a long day, got around to posting something on the governor’s speech (something I did far too hurriedly after chafing all day to get to it), I happened to have a conversation with Kathryn Fenner (I ran some clothes for the homeless by her house, because yesterday was the deadline for that). I mentioned to her that I had just written something about the speech, but that I was uncomfortable with it because it was far too hasty. I also knew that I was out of steam and wouldn’t be able to improve on it that night, but had posted it because I felt I was already too far behind the curve not to.

And then I said that there aren’t all that many things that I miss about newspaper work, but here’s one: While I hated having that weekly column deadline hanging over me (mainly because I worked a more than full-time job without counting any of the time I spent on those columns), what I DID miss was the discipline and rigor of writing that column, knowing that it would be in print.

I said that because I was feeling a familiar feeling. Often on Thursday nights, I would make myself stay at the office late (as I did last night), so that I could at least completely rough out a Sunday column. I would leave knowing that it was very rough, with a lot of stream-of-consciousness and maybe some holes in it, but that I had SOMETHING to start with. Almost always, I would come in the next morning and rewrite it from top to bottom, frequently completely changing my mind about a point I had made, or at least drastically changing the emphasis. And then, at the end of THAT process, I had something worth publishing.

On top of that, I had people like Cindi, highly trained and knowledgeable professionals who often knew more than I did about points I was making, reading behind me and correcting any errors in my final version. And then I had all day Saturday that I could come in and change it if I felt the need (and sometimes I did).

Blogging isn’t like that. Blogging is more NOW — which is why I was so antsy last night because 24 hours had passed without my saying anything about the speech.

Yeah, I know that sounds like excuses. And I pledge to you to do everything in my power to overcome the challenges inherent in this medium. But I failed to do that this time.

So, my apologies to Gov. Nikki Haley, and to you, my readers. And my praise to her for wanting to reduce the absurd number of people we lock up in this state, which aside from the social and moral cost, is indeed an excessive drain on our limited fiscal resources.

Now, to move on, and try to do better.

23 thoughts on “I was WRONG in something I said about Nikki’s speech; in fact, she deserves praise on that point

  1. bud

    Brad, it’s laudable that you recognized your error and corrected it. As for the point she’s making as a woman of some libertarian bent it seems fairly simple to reduce the prison population: Simply decriminalize drugs and gambling and voila we cut the prison population in half. Let’s hope Governor Haley is thinking along those lines.

  2. Doug Ross

    One easy way to cut down on the number of inmates is to stop putting people in jail for using/abusing drugs.

    In my view, the only people who should be incarcerated are those who commit acts of violence or theft.

  3. jfx

    It’s OK. This medium also allows you to receive near-instant feedback, and to correct or clarify the record in near-real-time, at will. Isn’t blogging more about putting an evolving, dynamic thought process in print, as it happens…warts and all?

    By the way, the blogging you did from England was great stuff, your most inspired work yet. You built up some serious blogging capital there. You’re allowed to be a little tired and hasty on the back end of that ale-soaked tour de force.

  4. Brad

    Yeah, you can correct in real time, and that’s cool… but at the same time you can sort of hide from your errors by deleting them, and I’m torn as to whether that’s the right thing to do. How do you hold yourself accountable for an error when, like something dropped down the oubliette in 1984, it no longer exists?

    I’ve tried to get the best of all worlds, and hold myself more completely accountable, by leaving the error up, but striking through it and marking it as an error in a highly visible way, and linking the reader to the correction. (And yet, a reader a few moments ago still commented on the error as though it were correct, so I’m not sure about this method…)

    What do Y’ALL think is the best way? Just delete the error, or just rewrite or correct it, or do what I did, or something else I’m not even thinking of?

    See, the reason why one is so much more careful about every word in print is that it’s irretrievable. All you can do is publish a correction later; you can’t do anything about all those thousands of copies of the paper out there with the error in it. (My old boss Reid Ashe, whose training was as an engineer and was particular about such uses of language, used to correct people when they demanded a “retraction.” He said, “we don’t DO retractions, because the presses don’t run backwards,” which was his way of saying it was impossible to pull all those papers back and undo them. (A logistical problem that I always felt Orwell sort of glossed over in his imagining of a world in which all traces of published information could be erased from the world’s memory. Big Brother or not, it wouldn’t be possible.) All one could do was own up to the error.

    Blogging doesn’t have that permanence. But lacking that permanence, it can also lack the same accountability. Who’s to say you made an error, after you correct it — unless they thought to do a screen capture before you got to it?

    So I’m trying to employ both the correctability of the Web with the accountability of print. Any suggestions on how to improve on that?

  5. Brad

    Oh, and bud — I would enlarge upon your point. I wouldn’t “decriminalize” drugs (gambling, to the best of my knowledge, does not appreciably add to the prison population, but drugs certainly do). But I WOULD raise the threshold of what we think is a prison-worthy offense. I would save prison for those who are a direct threat to society — to people who have committed VIOLENT crimes, and seem likely to do so again. We can come up with all sorts of other penalties for other offenses, from fines to community service to house arrest to monitoring — all of them cheaper than prison, not to mention more appropriate.

  6. bud

    You’re beating yourself up way too much on this faux pas. Seems like your way of dealing with it was appropriate. It’s inevetibale that some people will fail to get the retracted version and comment on the original. No human endevor can ever be perfect, including retractions of imperfect posts.

    As for drugs, if I had my way we would simply get rid of all drug laws period. If someone wants to shoot up heroin or sell it to another adult I say knock yourself out. Just don’t cry to me when it doesn’t work out.

  7. jfx

    I like the way you handled it: a highly visible new post containing a correction, explanation, and apology. And a highly visible amendment to the original post. Red font is serious business.

    Yeah, you might have a reader or two still operating in a parallel, pre-correction dimension. Very small price for such comprehensive transparency. I would say never subtract from or edit prior posts that contain factual errors. Only amend them, and note it. Bear in mind your comments section is going to unfold in the context of that original post. So if you go back and meddle with the original post, it may only serve to mangle the larger conversation. If someone ever digs up an old post for research…say an alien undergraduate in the future, doing research on human blogging…it may be very disconcerting to the alien researcher to find streams of comments that don’t quite synchronize with the OP.

    Also, you should probably just assume that all your old posts and pages are “cached” out in the Google Farm. It may come back to bite you if there are both cached original and edited versions of your posts flying past each other out in the datasphere.

  8. bud

    I’m I the only one who thinks it a good idea just to run a deficit until unemployment drops? I hear said over and over again that government should be run like a family budget. But if the family has a crisis you can damn sure bet your bippy that they will run a deficit. Imagine trying to balance the family budget while your child is seriously ill. If you don’t have the money are you simply going to let the kid die? You may cut non-essential stuff like that expanded cable TV package but the essentials will have to be paid, even if you have to go into debt.

    Same with the state budget. With unemployment so high doesn’t that constitute a genuine emergency? Let’s get rid of the balanced budget law and just run a deficit now and a surplus once things turn around.

  9. Brad

    Yes, families will borrow (or spend on credit) for necessities, although they would be advised to keep it to a minimum.

    Something else they do, and this totally escapes our ideologically driven leaders: A family in straitened circumstances (and I know a lot about this) spends just as much energy trying to increase revenues as in cutting spending.

    Am I saying “let’s raise taxes.” No, I think this is a lousy time to do that. But it’s also a lousy time to cut Medicaid, and schools, and prisons, and law enforcement. And new revenue sources, however unpalatable or even ill-advised they might be, should at least be part of the conversation, because we’re at the point that the expense-cutting is also highly harmful and ill-advised. Rational, pragmatic people will hold up the undesirable option of new taxes up against the undesirable options of additional spending cuts, and make realistic assessment of the comparative risks of each.

    But we don’t do that in South Carolina. Ever. Because our leadership is not practical; it’s ideological. There are good, practical reasons not to raise taxes now (MOST taxes, that is. We could double and triple last year’s increase in cigarette taxes without expectation of harmful effects). But there are equally practical reasons not to slash essential services further. I would just like to see a practical, no-options-barred, discussion of our options for once.

  10. William Tucker

    @bud – Under your plan, if I get unemployed it would be okay for me to bounce checks until I find work again.

    Since it’s impossible to determine how long I’d run a deficit, what’s to keep me from bouncing checks for the next 20 years until I can start collecting SSI. At which point I doubt I’d live long enough to pay current bills plus the huge deficit I’ve run up over those 20 years.

    Put simply, don’t spend what you don’t have. If it means cutting services, you cut services. The best thing I’ve ever done is get completely out of debt (except for a mortgage which I pay extra on and took out the minimum length term I could afford).

  11. Patrick

    She said too much prior to making her point, that she wants to reduce recidivism in order to save money. It is certainly understandable the mistake of thinking she wants to serve fewer meals per day, considering she dis say that too.

  12. Tom Fillinger

    Brad, I have disagreed with you more than not in the 17 years I have been a resident of SC.

    That said, I have GREAT admiration for a man who honestly and adequately admits his error and makes a serious effort to correct the infraction. KUDOS to you sir for exhibiting integrity. I ABSOLUTELY agree with you on this one. In Grace, Tom

  13. Scout

    I like the posting the correction method rather than deleting. I think you handled it well. Live and learn, monitor and adjust; this is what we do.

    About Nikki’s inmate goal, I agree it is laudable, but shouldn’t the goal always be to reduce the recidivism rate? Wouldn’t it be a given, without needing to be named specifically? Is this goal credible as a way to reduce spending without any mention of how it will be attained? I find myself wondering how this is to be accomplished without spending any additional money on services to help the inmates not be repeat offenders – like job training or rehabilitation programs. But I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised.

  14. tired old man

    Quit beating yourself up Brad.

    Let’s remember that Nikki Haley’s prime leadership requirement is to clearly establish goals and objectives.

    I shuddered, too, when I heard the feed them less statement — partly because Sanford and Ozmint had already cut weekend meal service to two meals a day. The rationale was that fewer guards were required to monitor one less institutional-wide meal movement on Saturday and Sunday. Our deficit-plagued, cheapest in the nation prison system is run by the inmates because the state cannot afford sufficient guards to the point that we have had convicts walk through unguarded gates and have had a shooting in one prison where the gun has yet to be found. Imagine the day-to-day chaos.

    Nikki has asked Judge Byars to run a merged adult and juvenile prison system. Adult corrections is basically a warehouse system, while juvenile corrections is centered on treatment services with the goal of persuading youthful offenders to change their ways — or they will wind up in adult corrections and learn some wicked, wicked ways that in turn result in skyrocketing recidivism rates.

    Back to my point: Nikki’s job was to be very plain, precise and to the point. Looking at all the things we are reading into that brief passage, it is clear she failed. She offered no explanation as to HOW Judge Byars would be able to reverse an appalling recidivism rate – so the audience is now imaging her taking a stand to decriminalize drugs laws, at least pot laws. The point is that this would be one avenue to begin altering the number of people flowing INTO adult corrections especially in the absence of some defined policy that alters the personalities and propensities of convicts hardened by prison life flowing back OUT into the communities.

    All this said, I was impressed by the difference between her initial state of the state and Sanford’s previous eight ones where he essentially stared upward into the skies and gazed upon the moon and the stars as part of an academic discussion that was as heartless as it was pedantic. Sanford always viewed South Carolina as a great laboratory with almost 4 million lab rats, and he acted like a kid with a science kit.

    Nikki continues to want to be the dressed and coifed TV anchor, shooting precisely memorized sound bites to mollify the lab rats. She refuses to be distracted by details. After all, can’t is not an option. She just wants to keep moving those sound bites along. Her speech therefore was oddly focused and fast moving to the point that she failed to pause to allow applause. When it did come, she greeted it with a sly, almost shy grin – which I think someone described as belonging to the smartest girl in the class when she raises her hand to answer.

  15. Scout

    Tired Old Man, you are my new hero. You nailed it.

    So if her strategy to reduce recidivism is to attempt to work with adults in a similar fashion to juveniles, that is to offer treatment services – how is this to happen without costing more money?

    Maybe it can be done – if there is wasteful use of resources right now and a smart person can reassign them.

    I like treatment better than warehousing, so I’ll hope it can be done.

  16. Hunter


    You did it right.

    An obvious problem with editing out mistakes is that if someone responds to your mistake then you’d be in a position of having to note that they were right and you were wrong and that you had changed it (or, worse, you keep their comment from appearing.) Also, it is very possible people might forward the link or the offending text to someone. Taken across the entire blogisphere, a big mess for those who treat it all seriously.

    I don’t see a problem with correcting sans comment within a few minutes of hitting the publish button since few if any people are likely to have seen it. But much more delay than that and it should be noted as corrected — facts and significant changes in opinion, not standard proofreading correx, obviously.



    I have a friend who is serving a 12 year sentence for a DUI death.
    He is a highly trained CPA & has even been allowed to work-for the Town of Chester, while he stays incarcerated. He was recently moved back to ‘the System’, however, as a punishment for not being properly supervised by the Sheriff at the County level. His talents might be used to benefit the State and its citizens, free of charge, but ‘the System’ does not accomodate such enlightened thinking. Reduction of the inmate population, or at least using the talents of any nonviolent ones to do work for the State, sure would put some taxpayingemployable former inmates back on the “paying side” of the equation. Reducing COSTs can occur in several ways, not only by letting people out of prison,early; using their talents wisely IN PRISONs rebuilds Society.

  18. Bart

    Sorry for being late to the discussion. It is a sign of great character for one to admit being wrong, especially in a public forum like a blog.

    I agree with any effort to reduce the prison population that does not include increasing the potential for exposing the general public to greater harm. Some sentences go so far beyond the pale in harshness and amount of time one receives for some crimes. Incarcerating anyone for several years for simple possession of marijuana is absurd and overkill under any circumstances. Jail or prison sentences should be standardized and sentencing guidelines should reflect what actual harm or damage is done to individuals or society when a particular crime is committed. When one jurisdiction can sentence someone to 10 years for simple possession while others opt for a few days or months, in that aspect, something is inherently wrong with our judicial system.

    For us to survive as a free nation, we need to maintain a reasonable but strict rule of law in order to avoid chaos and anarchy. When we abandon established aspects of the law in order to serve a political purpose, we invite the dissolution of any law that does not suit the ambitions of any individual, party, or political entity who wishes to use its demise for their own purposes that is in direct conflict with the overall good of the majority. We also need to exercise caution and prudence when we overreact to emotionally charged events that send both ends of the political spectrum off on a tangent, thereby creating and enacting laws that are not well reasoned and can ultimately do more harm than good. There are too many people with criminal records because they had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when a buddy was smoking a joint.

  19. Elizabeth

    Having worked in one system and having close friends working in the other, I can tell you that DJJ and SCDC were once one, but it was clear that children (albeit some very troubled and dangerous children) should and could be treated differently and with a purpose that often was accomplished. That said, Corrections used to have professionals working with the inmates. And they should again. You can not put any person in a small, awful space, treat him/her like cattle and offer little to no habilitation services and expect him/her to return to society “all fixed”. I will promise you one thing. Some folks come into either system and learn more inside than they knew outside, and those things often are criminal in nature. Some are abused by fellow inmates and sometimes by staff.Locking up small time offenders or addicts or mentally ill with really seasoned criminals is dangerous and inhumane. I hope Judge Byars will be able to reinstate treatment for those who can benefit, and to work with the Legislature to establish alternatives to prison, like he has with the juveniles. And, although no one seems to care, feeding adults only twice a day on the weekends is not coming from a treatment place. People just don’t know this, or don’t care. Be careful that we don’t let these folks fall through the cracks any longer. They will return to your communities. Do you want them better or worse? Haley needs to talk with social workers, psychologists, doctors and other treatment professionals in forming her vision. The bottom line is not money, it is many, many human beings. Many of them have people who love them. The focus must be to help give them a sense of accomplishment, improved self esteem, and many skills to help them become productive citizens.

  20. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    It was funny how you kept on about it–as if something were really nagging at you–you must have had an inkling– a Blink moment!

    Kudos for admitting your wrong!

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