Article published April 2, 2007
Inmate quotas on the tableROBERT W. DALTON, Staff Writer
State Sen. Mike Fair and Department of Corrections Director Jon Ozmint will meet with members of Gov. Mark Sanford's staff this week to iron out details of a $4.6 million plan designed to eliminate quotas on the number of inmates the state will accept each week.
The meeting could come as early as Tuesday.
"Our intent is to sit down with Sen. Fair and Director Ozmint sooner rather than later to talk about the issue," said Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer. "It's something that is affecting not just the Corrections Department, but local jails, as well."
The quotas have been a source of contention between Ozmint and jail directors across the state since he implemented them on Jan. 1. The limits have added to the overcrowding problem at the Spartanburg County jail, causing Director Larry Powers in March to send Ozmint a bill for $65,000 -- money he says the county is owed for caring for state prisoners.
Ozmint said he imposed the quotas to put all the state's jails on the same footing. He said some counties already had limits on the number of prisoners they could send to the state each week while others, such as Spartanburg and Greenville, did not.
Fair, R-Greenville, chairman of the Senate Corrections and Penology Committee, said the plan would fund about 700 beds. Most would be permanent beds in the general population, while about 200 would be used to create a "jail within the prison" to allow the state to accept more prisoners from county jails.
"Being a strict constitutionalist, the law means what it says," Fair said. "These inmates are (state) property and must be accepted."
The "jail within the prison" idea could be a sticking point. In an exchange of letters with Fair, Ozmint wrote that accepting prisoners the department had not evaluated raised concerns about safety and security.
Ozmint on Friday declined to talk about the specifics of the plan. But he said the sides are closer than people realize.
"There's a whole lot of agreement," Ozmint said. "I don't think the baby will be thrown out with the bathwater."
Fair said he understands Ozmint's concerns about liability, but that the liability shouldn't be passed down to the county jails.
"Whatever liability there is, it inherently belongs to the state," he said.
Ozmint said a computer program now available to all the jails also could alleviate the problem. The program allows jails across the state to see exactly how many prisoners other jails are sending to the state, and to take advantage of open spots when some jails don't reach their quota.
Getting everyone to use it is the difficult part, he said.
"The early 20th century system of phone tag is not working with the larger volume we're dealing with now," Ozmint said. "We need to computerize so that everybody has real-time, up-to-date information."
Robert W. Dalton can be reached at 562-7274 or email@example.com.