COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The director of South Carolina prisons has won a national award for turning around an agency that was near the bottom in the county in funding, salaries and the rate of inmates who return to prison.

Corrections Department Director Bryan Stirling was honored Saturday by the Correctional Leaders Association for the changes in South Carolina prisons over his eight years of leadership.

Stirling took over an agency where the starting salary for officers was about $26,000, funding was in the bottom five states in the nation, inmates ended back in prison in one of the higher rates in the country and one in three new prison guards quit within two years of being hired and trained, wrote former Corrections Department director Jon Ozmint in nominating Stirling for the award.

Starting salaries are now around $36,000 before any chances to earn overtime, and South Carolina has moved to the top of states in recidivism rate.

Stirling also has support from both Democrats and Republicans who backed his nomination for the Tom Clements Innovation and Achievement Award, named for the Colorado prisons director killed by a former inmate in 2013.