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Prisons & Jails – Inmate Wages – Grievance Deadline – ‘Policy’ – Prevailing Wage

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//July 7, 2021

Prisons & Jails – Inmate Wages – Grievance Deadline – ‘Policy’ – Prevailing Wage

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//July 7, 2021

Where the respondent-prisoner challenged the appellant-Department of Corrections’ policy of paying sub-prevailing wages to prisoners, respondent was not required to comply with the department’s 15-day deadline for filing a grievance arising from an incident.

We affirm the Administrative Law Court’s rulings that (1) respondent’s grievance was timely filed, (2) the “prevailing wage” required to be paid to prisoners was the average wage for the relevant occupation, and (3) respondent was entitled to have his wages immediately distributed to a person or entity of his choosing.

Because respondent’s claims involve continuous conditions potentially affecting numerous inmates, we find respondent’s grievance involves Department of Corrections (DOC) policies and procedures, rather than an isolated incident. Therefore, we find respondent’s grievance falls within the exception enumerated in Paragraph 13.9 of DOC Policy GA-01.12, and thus, Paragraph 13.1’s fifteen-day filing rule does not apply.

S.C. Code Ann. § 24-3-430(D) requires prisoners to be paid the “prevailing wage” for their labor, but the statute does not define “prevailing.” Relying on the affidavit of a witness from the Employment Security Commission (ESC), the ALC determined the “prevailing wage” equals the mean average wage for an occupation received by non-inmate workers. This figure may be found by referring to the appropriate Occupational Employment Statistics or OCC code used by the state agency that determines wage rates (at times relevant to this case, the ESC, but now the Department of Employment and Workforce).

We affirm the ALC’s calculation of respondent’s wage rate for 1997-1999 and its remand to the DOC for a determination of the prevailing wage for the remaining years of respondent’s labor.

Pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 24-3-40(B)(2), an inmate serving a life sentence, like respondent, shall be given the option to include his withheld wages in his estate or to distribute them to persons or entities of his choosing. Further, § 24-3-40(A)(5) provides these wages will be held in an escrow account for the benefit of the prisoner. Because an inmate serving a life sentence will never receive the benefit of his wages outside of prison (unlike those who will be released during their lifetime), the DOC erred by refusing respondent the option of designating persons or entities for immediate distribution of his escrowed wages.


Torrence v. South Carolina Department of Corrections (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-044-21, 17 pp.) (Thomas Huff, J.) Appealed from the Administrative Law Court (Deborah Brooks Durden, ALJ) Lake Summers for appellant; Thomas Torrence, pro se. S.C. App.

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