Article published August 16, 2008
County keeping tabs on its 7-day city inmatesBy Jason Spencer
The Spartanburg County Detention Center on Thursday began tracking inmates being held on municipal charges in an effort to make sure those prisoners are tried in a timely manner and do not contribute to jail overcrowding.
The move stems from a recent, albeit brief debate over 10-year-old contracts the county government had in place with various municipalities that would allow the county to charge its cities and towns a daily fee for holding their inmates for more than seven days. The contracts were never enforced. And despite efforts by Spartanburg County Councilman O'Neal Mintz to revive the matter, elected officials chose not to formally engage in a public discussion.
But that did lead to internal discussion among county administrators.
"I don't have any intention of invoicing any municipalities - at this point in time," County Administrator Glenn Breed said. "I haven't gotten any direction from council on invoicing municipalities. This is a tool. If we ever needed to use it, we could."
Counties are not bound by state law to house municipal inmates for free. Municipal inmates typically are those charged with minor crimes, such as disorderly conduct. More severe charges, which would be heard in General Sessions Court, or those that would be heard in Family Court, exclude inmates from being classified as municipal offenders.
In 1998, the county agreed with Spartanburg and several other cities to collect $45.65 per day for every inmate held solely on municipal charges for more than a week - an agreement designed to give teeth to a state law that requires that such prisoners are tried and processed within seven days but doesn't provide for a penalty if they aren't.
Those agreements, however, didn't go farther than the paper they were written on. Since then, though, the county has seen much turnover among elected officials and administrators.
"Once Mr. Breed and them were made aware of this, and they were looking at it, the decision was made - since the contract's an agreement - to go ahead and notify the municipalities that we'd be checking on it. And if they move the cases through, then obviously there won't be any charge. But if they do keep them beyond (seven days), my intention is to have a list made up each week and send it to Mr. Breed for his review. And we'll send it out to municipalities," Powers said.
Breed began sending letters to municipalities earlier this week. In them, he said the relatively new software used at the jail makes it possible to track inmates who are being held simply on municipal offenses. Years ago, when this idea first was floated, such a process was tedious and time-consuming.
Thursday, the jail added a new page to its Web site that lists the cities and towns in Spartanburg County and allows anyone with Internet access to track inmates held on municipal charges.
There are several disclaimers on the page, and any kinks will be worked out in upcoming days, Powers said.
Of the eight inmates the county jail is housing for Duncan, for instance, two have been held strictly on municipal charges for more than seven days - meaning that if the county government was to follow the policy put in place a decade ago, Duncan would owe $547.80.
But the county isn't willing to go that far.
"The municipalities pay taxes to the county, and I feel like (housing inmates) is part of the services rendered by the county for the taxes that are paid," said Spartanburg County Council Chairman Jeff Horton.
At this point, tracking inmates will mainly be used to notify cities and towns if and when they come close to - or exceed - their seven-day deadline. It also lends itself to identifying any cities and towns that habitually don't try cases in a timely manner.
"We're going to monitor it, and put it out there for everyone to see - and, hopefully, the towns, and the chiefs of police, and the mayors and the councils will all look at it," Powers said. "There will be problems from time to time, but hopefully this will be to everyone's benefit."