Article published November 30, 1988
Panel's jail proposal pending
Everyone agrees on one point: Spartanburg County needs a new jail. Whether to replace the overcrowded 30-year-old jail in downtown Spartanburg with a high-rise building or move the entire operation to a 25-acre site outside the city is another matter.
The New Detention and Court Facility Advisory Committee, composed of local government, judicial and law enforcement officials, will meet today to vote on its final recommendation to the Spartanburg County Council. The committee also is considering renovations of the County Courthouse to expand courtrooms and other offices into space vacated by the move of several agencies to the new County Administrative building on North Church Street.
Many attorneys and court and jail officials say that a jail adjoining the courthouse is more convenient than an outlying location for everyone, including the public. A consulting company hired by the county, however, has concluded it would cost less to build a low profile jail, which would need fewer employees and have fewer potential operating problems, at an outlying site.
Carter Goble Associates of Columbia has estimated that a jail outside the city would cost $16.8 million, while a 10 to 15 story jail on the present site would cost $17.6 million. A parking garage would increase the cost of a high-rise jail to $19.6 million.
The consultant recommended building a 336-bed jail, with administration and support facilities for a 600-person jail. Projections show the county would need a 400-bed jail by the mid-1990s if the state Legislature enacts laws that would force county jails to keep prisoners with sentences of a year or less, instead of 90 days or less.
"We'd prefer to keep (the jail) here, but that's not feasible," said committee member and 7th Circuit Court Judge E.C. Burnett III. "We don't have enough land here for long-range use. "If we can get within a 10-mile radius of the courthouse, it won't create that much of a problem," he added. "I don't think we have any alternative." Burnett suggested that officials could use video cameras and monitors to conduct simple procedural matters, such as bond hearings or arraignments, without bringing the prisoner from a distant jail to the courthouse.
A Spartanburg Development Council member agreed that the most logical plan is to move the jail outside city limits. The move may not be necessary for aesthetic reasons, but outlying land is cheaper, there would be room to expand, and computers and telephones can link related departments, said Arthur Cleveland of Cleveland-White and Associates. "In the age of computers, we do not have to cram everything into downtown," Cleveland said. "Why don't we do it right? Let's get a functional place in a setting that will last us for a long time."
But if the County Council, which will make the final decision, opts to build a high-rise jail downtown, "they had better spend the money so that it doesn't have to be an eyesore," Cleveland said. "It has to be landscaped and fit in with the rest of the area."
While attorneys, especially those who specialize in criminal matters and have offices near the Courthouse, may like being close enough to walk to the jail, "the people entitled to the greatest voice are the taxpayers," Burnett said. "You cannot build a jail on courthouse grounds just for the convenience of lawyers," the judge said.
Moving the jail would affect not only lawyers, but also those who could least afford it, attorney Frank Henson said. People who don't have their own transportation would find it much more difficult to visit friends or relatives in jail, or deliver bail money, Henson said. Even an ominous high-rise jail would be a center of activity that would attract people and create economic spinoffs in nearby stores and restaurants, he added. "The community as a whole would be the loser," Henson said. "I think (moving the jail) is an extremely poor idea."
Henson and several other attorneys said they may have to raise legal fees to cover the cost of commuting to a jail outside the city. "Fees are based on time spent and the nature of the charge," attorney Mike Rudasill said. "It just depends on how far out they're talking about. "But it's a lot more convenient for me to walk a block and a half than to drive some distance to talk to (my clients)," Rudasill said.
Tee Ferguson, an attorney and state legislator from Spartanburg, said he hopes the jail remains downtown. "If that sort of investment were to be made, I'd like to see it made in the city," Ferguson said. "The jail, like the courthouse, always has been and should remain centrally located."