Article published March 29, 2007
State senator offers solution to overcrowded county jailsAssociated Press
GREENVILLE -- State Sen. Mike Fair said a weekly limit on the number of inmates the state prison system will take in is against the law and offered a solution that includes never-used prison cells built three years ago.
Local officials across the state have been frustrated with the Correction Department's quotas, which only allow a limited number of inmates from county jails to be transferred to the state prison system each week.
Greenville County has spent $75,000 housing inmates that should have been in a state facility, County Administrator Joe Kernell said. Spartanburg County jail director Larry Powers has sent a bill to the Corrections Department for $65,000.
Most inmates waiting for trials and sentenced to less than a year behind bars are in county jails. Those sentenced to at least a year are usually housed in state prisons.
State prison director Jon Ozmint has said the quotas are necessary because his agency doesn't get enough money.
Fair's solution would give state prisons an additional $4.6 million, which would include opening an additional 256 prison beds that were built three years ago but haven't been used because corrections didn't have the money to staff them.
The state would have to pick up prisoners within 10 days under Fair's proposal, which doesn't include any money to reimburse counties for housing inmates that should be in state prisons.
"We can't go down that trail," said Fair, R-Greenville, and chairman of the Senate's Corrections and Penology Committee.
Ozmint spokesman Josh Gelinas said the agency supports Fair's proposal, but disagrees with him calling its quotas illegal.
The Corrections Department asked for more money to keep from having to implement the quotas, but lawmakers refused. "We've never gotten what we asked for," Gelinas said.
The state prison population peaked four years ago, but an increase in arrest rates and convictions have caused a backlog evaluating new prisoners. Fair said most of the money he wants to give corrections would pay for staffing at an expanded center to review new inmates as well as the unused 256-bed facility and one other location.
Information from: The Greenville News, www.greenvillenews.com