Overcrowding, other problems plague aging county jail

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Study to look at problems, remedies By Stan Welch
– Efforts by Anderson County Sheriff Chad McBride and Anderson County Council to address fifteen years of serious overcrowding at the Anderson County Detention Center (ACDC) continue, as the Sheriff has contacted the U.S.

Department of Justice (DOJ) and requested a study to determine the nature and extent of the problems, and the most effective remedies.
The National Institute of Corrections (NIC), a division of the DOJ, has responded to the request and has notified Capt. Garry Bryant that the request has been approved. NIC will identify the various vendors who conduct such studies and the study will probably be initiated in May.
The study will encompass much more than just the detention center. The performance and the role of various departments of the law enforcement infrastructure will be reviewed as well. Those departments will include the solicitor’s office, the public defender’s office, the courts, and the sheriff’s office. The pace at which inmates are brought to court for a disposal of their case plays a major role in the size of the inmate population. Capt. Bryant estimates that 80% of the current inmates are still awaiting their day in court.
The presumption of their innocence under those conditions impacts the way in which they can be managed, and classified. While they can be required to keep their own area clean, for example, they cannot be assigned to other duties, such as litter pickup.
The Anderson County Sheriff was first notified by the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) that the jail’s capacity had been exceeded in 2002. In 2006, that overcrowding peaked, with almost twice the number of inmates in custody than the legal capacity indicated. There were 537 inmates, almost double the 257 allowed under state regulations. Currently, there are 457 inmates in the detention center. It is the most overcrowded county jail in South Carolina, by far.
In 2007, with the numbers down only slightly, two inmates lured a corrections officer into a cell by flooding it, and beat him unconscious. He had a large gash on his head that required staples, and various other wounds. He later left the ACSO due to PTSD like symptoms. Bryant says that the training and precautions that his staff takes, along with a dose of luck, make such vicious assaults rare, but he recognizes that overcrowding degrades both the safety of his officers and of the inmates.
“My officers are with these inmates twenty four/seven. As for the inmates, they are face to face with each other all the time. There isn’t room to take a step back from trouble if it comes up, even if they are so inclined. Tinderbox is the best description of our situation here that I have heard. The tension and the promise of violence is very real, and very persistent.”
NIC states that once a jail reaches eighty percent of its legal capacity, the ability to properly classify and segregate the various inmates according to the nature and severity of their charges is lost.
Capt. Bryant says that is an understatement, in a circumstance that has eighteen medium security inmates currently incarcerated in a cell designed for two inmates, for a 900% overflow. Similar, though somewhat lower, percentages exist in every classification.
In 2012 the SCDC informed the Sheriff that the clock was ticking on the unacceptable circumstance at the jail.
Bryant and his staff, which he describes as very professional and extremely motivated, have gone to extraordinary ends to cope with the situation. Inadequate adjustments such as the transformation of a phone room, the drunk tank, and the medical treatment room into bunks is one example. “Those areas don’t have a day room, or a shower in them. They meet almost none of the requirements for inmate incarceration.”
Single and double bunk beds have been replaced with triples. Some inmates sleep on mats on the floor in rooms that should be used for other things. Lawyers, investigators, and others have a single tiny room with a table and three chairs to meet with their clients.
Sanitation and maintenance are also degraded by overcrowding.
Bryant has figures that reflect the expenditure of almost twenty thousand dollars on maintenance per month, just to keep the basic systems in the jail operating. With just over sixty percent of the current budget year expired, ninety six percent of the maintenance budget has been eaten up. Without inmate labor, that figure would be much higher.
“We have a crew of inmates who literally fix something every single day – electrical, plumbing, HVAC – something breaks every day.”
The sentenced inmates, those who have been convicted, can be placed on work crews. They get a set amount of time reduced from their sentence for each day they work. Sometimes it’s a day to day exchange; other times the inmate receives less. In 2016, sentenced inmates provided 134,796 man hours of labor to the county and the state.
At the minimum pay rate, with no benefits, that amounts to over $977.000.
They washed more than 3200 police cars and more than 4200 loads of laundry. 392,000 meals, at an average cost of a dollar thirty nine cents per meal, were prepared in a kitchen that Bryant says is less than half the size it needs to be.
The original jail is more than sixty years old, and has none of the features now incorporated into modern jail construction. There have been approximately a hundred and fifty beds added since that time, while the county has grown by more than a hundred thousand people. “It doesn’t take much to see that math doesn’t work, said Bryant.
Bryant has purchased outbuildings to store supplies and equipment in, in an effort to free more space inside. Correction officers (COs) have to walk across wooden pallets to reach those buildings after a good rain. Suicidal inmates are kept in small metal tanks or containers.
Bryant has one other reason to bemoan the lack of space. “While our main goal is to keep these people – and they are people, with parents and families and children – safe and sound, we would also like to return them to their communities as better people than when they came in here. There are drug programs, NA and AA and other counseling that we just don’t have room to host. You can’t teach a GED class in a cell with thirty people in it. You just can’t. So we lose some opportunities to affect lives and give some of these folks a chance to change their ways and get a leg up.”
Bryant stresses that he isn’t looking for a plush,country club jail. “I just want more steel and concrete so that we can run a safe and effective jail here. We aren’t looking to spoil anyone. When they leave here, we hope we never see them again.”