Article published January, 1986
Lack Of Space Still Jail's Biggest ProblemBy MARC FINLEY
Inmates of the Spartanburg County Detention Facility are housed, fed, clothed and given medical treatment for a daily cost per inmate of about what a room in a cheap motel would run.
Warden Larry Powers estimates that cost at about $24.06 per day per inmate.
But that is about the only comparison to a motel that the jail can claim.
There are 98 beds in 13 cells. Most of the men share space in cells holding six, 10 or 16 persons. On most days, there are more than 100 prisoners in the jail. The extra inmates sleep on mattresses on the floor.
Understandably, Powers says a lack of space in the jail is the greatest problem his staff faces.
The jail is rated by the South Carolina Department of Corrections to hold 82 prisoners. That figure is based on square footage. However, the average daily population for the past six months has been about 109 inmates. The highest number of inmates housed in the jail in one day in the last six months was 139. That number occurred in October.
Of major expenses paid by taxpayers to house inmates, food cost $75,000 in 1985; medical costs roughly $55,000, including care rendered in the jail and outside the jail; and clothing, $1,800.
Inmates do not live on bread and water. They are fed three wholesome meals a day. The kitchen at the jail must maintain the same standards as a restaurant. It is inspected each year by inspectors with the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The food is required by the Corrections Department to be nutritious and contain something from each of the seven basic food groups each day. In winter, the food tends to be hot and heavy; in summer it is on the light side, Powers said.
A typical winter menu for a day includes scrambled eggs, grits, toast and jelly and coffee for breakfast; meatloaf, mashed potatoes, stewed tomatoes, biscuits, dessert and tea for lunch; and a fish sandwich, cole slaw, clam chowder, crackers, dessert and tea for dinner.
The jail operates a canteen for inmates that sells snacks, candy, cigarettes, soft drinks, playing cards, writing tablets and combs. Profits from the canteen are used to buy toilet articles, underwear, towels and wash clothes and to pay for haircuts for indigent inmates, postage stamps and recreational equipment.
Expensive medical care perhaps tops the list of services rendered to inmates, and it is given practically on demand.
"When an inmate first comes in we do a medical screen on him to see what medical problems he has," Powers said. "As long as they are in here we look after all their medical needs."
Any medical treatment or procedure that one of the staff doctors determines to be necessary is given, Powers said.
Religion is deemed a necessity as dear as food and health care. Inmates are allowed to practice their religion, and religious services are held twice a week.
"A board of chaplains made up of ministers throughout the county selects ministers to come to the jail to hold services," Powers said.
Services are held on Tuesday nights and Friday mornings.
"Any inmate is free to practice his religion as long as it does not interfere with the operation of the jail," Powers said. An inmate may meet with his own minister or rabbi if he wishes.
Inmates are not encouraged to sit on their bunks all day with no recreation.
"We take them outside for recreation for one hour each day," Powers said.
Volleyball and basketball is available at an enclosed, outdoor recreation area. The inmates can also run laps around the area.
Inside, there are televisions to watch and a library full of books.
Other inmate rights include access to the courts, to an attorney and to the law library in the courthouse; the right to a hearing before a committee of staff members if an inmate violates jail rules; the right to visitors twice a week for 30 minutes; to send and receive uncensored mail and access to a telephone twice a day for eight minutes.
The right to work is not granted most inmates. Inmate labor by and large does not help defray the cost of running the jail.
"Most inmates are pre-trial detainees and are innocent until proven guilty," Powers said. All you can require is that they keep their cells clean."
Inmates sentenced to ninety days or less serve their time in county jails. They are offered the chance to lessen their sentence by working in the jail at routine cleaning chores or in the kitchen. For each day an inmate works, he gets a day off his sentence.
State prisoners assigned to the jail do general maintenance around the courthouse, supervise the law library and do the cooking. Powers said the county saves the cost of four kitchen employee by using prisoners.
Approximately 7,850 people were housed in the jail between July 1985 and mid January 1986. The jail will have housed more than 14,000 inmates by the end of the 1985/1986 fiscal year on June 30, Powers said. In contrast, in 1984/1985 about 13,743 were housed in the jail, and in 1983/1984 about 10,734 inmates passed through the jail.
Some inmates - mainly those sentenced for drunk driving - are allowed to serve their jail time on weekends. Powers said this contributes to the overcrowding.
"We are experiencing problems (with space) during court sessions and on weekends," Powers said.
"It (overcrowding) creates tensions from time to time. The officers have to be aware of that," he said. "We are working with the courts and are moving the prisoners through as quickly as possible."
During times when the jail becomes unmanageably overcrowded some inmates are housed at the Spartanburg City Jail. Females housed for any length of time are also sent to the city jail.
The county pays the City of Spartanburg $12 per day per inmate. From July through December 1985 the County paid the City of Spartanburg $45,804 to house county inmates.
The jail has been cited by S.C. Department of Corrections inspectors for overcrowded conditions the last two years, and County Council is planning to build a new jail or renovate the old one. The question is when and how large, Powers said.
County officials are waiting to see if the Omnibus Criminal Justice Improvement Act is passed by the General Assembly before taking up the question of a new jail. Powers said no one has any idea how much a new jail or renovations would cost.
The bill was passed by the state Senate last year and would place the responsibility for housing non-violent criminals sentenced to one year or less on counties.
The provision is an attempt to stop the overcrowding of state prisons and put less violent offenders to work on community service projects in the counties where they committed their crimes. The bill would also stiffen prison terms for some violent offenses.
The House Judiciary Committee began its second day working on the legislation on Wednesday, and the bill was sent to Judiciary's criminal laws subcommittee.
The move was made to forestall a vote by the Judiciary Committee on the provision to send criminals sentenced to less than a year to county jails. It was felt that if a vote were taken the provision would have been defeated. In the end, the bill may have to be split up because of opposition from county governments to the provision.
If the bill is divided, the Senate would have to reconsider the legislation.
It may be weeks before all sections of the bill are returned to the full Judiciary Committee.
Under the bill, the state would help pay for additions to jails to handle the extra prisoners. The state would also help pay for those prisoners' upkeep.
"They (County Council) were looking at building a 250-bed facility before the omnibus crime bill came up," Powers said. "If the bill passes, we'll need a 400-bed jail."
The jail has 37 full-time employees including the warden and his secretary, 32 officers, a food service supervisor and two nurses. There are two part-time doctors. Powers tries to keep seven S.C. Department of Corrections prisoners housed in the county jail for use as kitchen and custodial help.
The budget for the jail for fiscal 1985-1986 is $958,393. Of that, $677,536 will go for salaries and the rest is to be spent on operating costs. The 1984/1985 budget was $804,969.
Training for jail guards has been upgraded in recent years.
Today, an officer must have 80 hours of training before he or she begins work and another 80 hours at the Criminal Justice Academy within a year of being hired. Also, guards here are required to take 24 hours of in-service training every year.
Guards do not carry weapons. If a scuffle breaks out, they are trained only to use as much force as is necessary to subdue an inmate. But to quell a disturbance, Powers can authorize the use of firearms, batons and chemical agents.