Article published November 22, 1992
Plan lets new jails house more prisoners
Rather than waive rules to allow Spartanburg County to double-up inmates at its new jail, state corrections officials are proposing a plan that would allow new jails statewide to house more prisoners.
The proposal would allow counties to house at least 50 percent more inmates in recently built and new jails without constructing new cells, according to Blake E. Taylor Jr., director of Audits and Inspection at the S.C. Department of Corrections. Taylor said he expects the state Corrections Board and the S.C. Association of Counties to review the measure at their meetings next month.
"We're pretty confident counties like Spartanburg are going to be so enthusiastic about them, they're going to be advocates for the change," he said. "In the case of Spartanburg, they would see a tremendous amount of gain in bed space. And it will help them avoid having to build additional space for quite some time."
Even before construction began on the $13.7 million jail at California Avenue and Howard Street, Spartanburg officials realized they would need more inmate space than the 240 cells could offer. But officials say they lacked the funds to build a larger facility.
The county told corrections officials it wanted to increase the rated capacity of the new jail to 392 inmates.
Under the proposed plan, the county would house two inmates per cell in about half the jail and convert a planned warehouse area into a dormitory for 24 inmate-trusties.
Under state standards, the cells in the new jail would not be large enough for two inmates, so the county sought an exemption.
Instead, corrections officials - who say they've received the same request from other counties dealing with the state's burgeoning inmate population - considered bringing state detention facility standards in line with the more lenient national standards.
"This is very timely because there is a tremendous amount of jail construction under way or on the drawing boards right now," Taylor said.
Spartanburg County Assistant Administrator Alan Ours said construction on the jail is on schedule to be completed in November 1993 and open in January 1994. Contractor Davidson and Jones of Raleigh, N.C., is in charge of the project.
Ours said the jail is unique for a number of reasons. He said a typical jail is designed so each cell has a window to allow natural light inside, per state requirements. But by installing skylights and a large window facing a secure, outside exercise area, the county was able to butt cell "pods" against one another while still meeting the requirements, saving about $500,000 in construction costs.
He said the block design also simplifies security measures because there are only two large, intersecting corridors. A control booth at the intersection provides guards a clear view of all the pod entrances and exits. He said mechanical chases running between the pods give maintenance workers direct access to the cells' plumbing, electricity, heating and air conditioning without having to enter the cells.