Gov. Nikki Haley picked her chief of staff to lead the S.C. Department of Corrections, appointing Bryan Stirling to be the next director.

Stirling, 43, had been with Haley as chief for about a year and comes in with years of experience in the Attorney General’s office, working for both Republican incumbent Alan Wilson as well as previous officeholder, Henry McMaster.

“Over the past three years our prison population has decreased and the recidivism rate is now at a 20-year low, proving that our reforms are working,” Haley said in her announcement Thursday.

“When it came time to think of someone for the Department of Corrections, I wanted someone I knew I could work well with, someone that knows how I feel about our prison system, and someone that I trusted,” she added.

Stirling will succeed current Director William R. Byars Jr., who is retiring after three years and a career that included serving as a Family Court judge and as head of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Stirling had served as deputy attorney general for six years before joining the governor’s staff.

The change is effective Oct. 1. He received his law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1996 after earning a Bachelor of Arts in political science, also from USC, in 1991.

His criminal justice resume says he has prosecuted more than 40 criminal domestic violence cases since 2004.

“Having spent a great portion of my career working with law enforcement, I understand just how important our prison system is to the health of our state and I look forward to working to make it even more efficient, effective, and safe,” Stirling said in a media release.

There are nearly 22,000 inmates in the S.C. Department of Corrections system, with about 5,700 security and nonsecurity personnel spread out across 26 prisons and other sites.

Stirling’s appointment was supported by both Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature on Thursday, though the state Democratic Party made issue of him not having previous experience working within the prison system.

“South Carolina needs a professional corrections chief who knows the system and how to improve it, who participates in professional meetings with the American Correctional Association, and can deal with our overcrowding, mental health problems in prisons, as well as managing the prisoners and employees,” party Chairman Jaime Harrison said.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.