By Stan Welch
There has been an eight hundred pound gorilla lurking around Anderson County law enforcement for more than a decade now, and newly installed Sheriff Chad McBride is wasting no time in addressing it.
That eight hundred pound gorilla is a sixty year old detention facility that is currently overcrowded to almost double its approved capacity. Just a few weeks after taking his oath of office, McBride brought the issue to the public, at an appearance before the Anderson First Monday Club Monday.
On that day, the jail, which has an official capacity of two hundred fifty seven was in fact incarcerating two hundred more inmates than that.
McBride made it clear that the overcrowding was a serious issue and one that has not and will not go away. He and Major Garry Bryant,who oversees the jail operations, explained that those inmates who have not yet been to court have a different status than a convicted criminal, and must be treated differently.
Shockingly, those untried inmates comprise eighty five per cent of the jail’s population. The remaining fifteen per cent of the population provide approximately nine thousand man hours of labor each month, for a variety of county departments, including the animal shelter, the MRF, or recovery facility, at the landfill, where recyclable materials are recovered from the mainstream waste that is brought in.
McBride says he would like to initiate a program that would help inmates obtain their GED certificates, hopefully decreasing their chances of further trouble with the law. But the area that would be used for classrooms is currently filled with floor mats and is used to hold inmates.
The jail has been cited repeatedly over the course of the last three administrations for failure to meet the standards established by the state Department of Corrections for holding inmates in custody. Such overcrowding presents very real dangers to both inmates and to the officers. The possibility exists that in dire circumstances, federal officials from the Department of Justice could become involved; an occurrence that could lead to the forced construction of a facility which would have to meet federal standards. That possibility is reflected in the range of estimates for the cost of a new jail, which run from thirty five to sixty million dollars.
Both Sheriffs Crenshaw and Skipper also raised the need for a new jail, but County Council, bothered by the potential costs, has repeatedly moved the issue to the back burner. Sensing that such an option may be running out, an advisory panel has been formed by McBride and is currently preparing several options to present to the Council’s finance committee for study and recommendation to the full Council.
Those options are expected to include a substantial rehabilitation effort for the current facility, construction of a new jail, and leasing of additional space, which would almost certainly have to be retrofitted to be suitable for use as a detention center.