Article published August 8, 1991
Jail population hits record high
No end in sight, director says
Overcrowding at the Spartanburg County jail reached an all-time peak last week, and with the new jail not scheduled for completion until late 1993, jail director Larry Powers said the trend shows no signs of slowing.
The jail and nearby jail annex were rated by the S. C. Department of Corrections for a combined capacity of 211 inmates. After a reverse sting by the city narcotics squad last weekend, there were 348 prisoners housed in the two buildings on Daniel Morgan Avenue, Powers said.
Jail personnel have set up old Army cots for the inmates and shuffled them from cell to cell to accommodate the increasing number of prisoners booked each day. People who are sentenced to spend weekends in jail are even asked to go back home during particularly busy periods.
"We are over our limit now, and I don't expect that that will change anytime soon," Powers said. "It's unfair to the weekenders because when we tell them to go home, their sentence is just extended another week. When you're filled to capacity, and 40 people show up, you have no other choice."
Powers is working with Circuit Court Judge E.C. Burnett III to devise ways of moving inmates through the legal system faster and, consequently, to reduce the time they spend behind bars.
"We have renovations in the courthouse going on right now that will add another Circuit Court room," said Alan Ours, assistant Spartanburg County administrator.
"I'll be the first to admit, there are people here that need to be here," Powers said. "What we're trying to do is get the ones who are not a threat to the community out the door so they aren't tying up a bed."
The jail was designed primarily to hold inmates who have not yet been sentenced. But when a prisoner is unable to post bond, Powers said inmates arrested for minor infractions often are kept a month or more.
"We have chronic alcoholics that are picked up on a public drunk charge that can't make bond, and they're here for 30 days," Powers said. "We're trying to find a way to move these people through the legal system quicker."
The county spent more than $1 million to renovate the annex to alleviate overcrowding in the old jail. Now the annex is just as severely overcrowded. Powers has added 59 cots to the annex. An average of 10 beds were added to each cell. A small holding area designed to house three inmates now holds six.
"You make decisions based on today because everything could change tomorrow," Powers said. "You never know how many people will be booked in and whether they'll be able to make bond and get out."
On average, a jail officer at the annex is required to supervise 68 inmates. "Unfortunately, crime continues to be on the rise, and our jails are feeling the pinch," Ours said. "We have more police officers who are doing their jobs and making more arrests. We have more people in jail. There's not much anyone can do that they aren't already doing."