Article published February 12, 1992
Planned county jail already too small
If Spartanburg County's new $13.7 million jail were to open today, it would be too small to handle the county's inmate population. Completion is two years away, but already the county's average inmate population is beyond the jail's planned 240-bed capacity. Architects will present the Spartanburg County Council with final design plans for the jail today. If the plans are approved, bids should go out Feb. 20, and they are expected to be awarded in April, Assistant County Administrator Alan Ours said.
The current jail and annex adjacent to the courthouse is rated to hold 211 inmates but had as many as 272 inmates in December. The average population is about 240 inmates, but it has soared above 300 at times, jail Director Larry Powers said. The ever-increasing inmate population prompted County Council Chairman David Dennis to acknowledge this week that the old jail probably will continue to be used in some capacity. "We're going to have to use everything we've got," Dennis said. "I don't know how we can keep up. No matter what they build, we're going to be filled up beyond capacity."
Council members decided more than a year ago on a scaled-down jail plan to save about $3.4 million. They said then that when the space was needed they would decide whether to add cells to the new jail or renovate the existing jail. "That has been discussed, but again, it amounts to money, and if funds are going to be available or not," Powers said.
The new jail will have core facilities, such as a kitchen, laundry and office space, that will enable it to be expanded to 624 beds by adding cell space.
One option being considered to reduce the number of inmates is a program under which inmates would be placed under house arrest at their homes and ordered to wear electronic monitoring devices. Powers and 7th Circuit Judge E.C. Burnett III have been developing such a program for non-violent offenders and those who cannot make bond on non-violent crimes. They plan to present the proposal to the County Council soon, Powers said. Powers has estimated that 30 to 40 inmates could be included in the home-detention program. Council members have discussed home detention for several years as a way to ease overcrowding, Dennis said, adding that "it's a very viable alternative."
At the very least, the old jail will probably be used to hold prisoners on days they are appearing in court, Dennis said. The number of detention officers needed for that limited use has not been determined, Powers said. Staffing requirements have not been determined for the new jail, either. But Powers would like the County Council to increase the size of his staff because the design of the new jail is based on the premise of direct supervision. Increased supervision of inmates has allowed the county to plan the jail using less expensive materials for such items as sinks and toilets in the cells. That has helped keep the cost down for the no-frills jail, but if inmates don't have proper supervision, the porcelain toilets are not going to last as long as stainless steel, Powers said.
The new jail will be on about 40 acres at California Avenue and Howard Street. The county is involved in condemnation proceedings to purchase the land. Construction should begin in late April or early May. The project is scheduled to be completed by January 1994, two months before the county's occupancy permit expires for temporary jail quarters being used to alleviate overcrowding.