Article published December 4, 1995
City feels slighted over jail use
Officials propose housing inmates in crowded county facility free of charge
Spartanburg Public Safety Director Tony Fisher wants the city to get the same free jail use as other municipalities in the county. If that means closing the city jail and adding 25 more inmates daily to the already overcrowded county detention center, then so be it. "If the county continues not to charge, the city of Spartanburg should get the same consideration," Fisher said last Friday. Fisher first made the comments last week to Larry Powers, director of the Spartanburg County Detention Center. Both men again brought the issue up Tuesday at a meeting of the Criminal Justice subcommittee, created in September by the County Council to find ways to reduce the number of inmates in the county jail. Although the average daily jail population has increased steadily over the years, it skyrocketed from 297 to more than 400 when the new jail opened last July on California Avenue. Powers, who says the population recently reached a 500-inmate-a-day peak, isn't expecting any immediate relief. Powers said adding 25 city inmates a day certainly won't help. Fisher, however, says Spartanburg residents are paying for dual services to keep inmates at the city jail. "Everybody is required to pay county taxes," Fisher said. And, he said, other municipalities - including Woodruff, Cowpens and Wellford - don't have to pay to send their city ordinance violators to the county jail. Cities would only be charged for inmates charged solely with municipal offenses - such as trespass, failure to appear in city court and public intoxication. Even if the county does begin charging, as proposed by some members of the Criminal Justice Committee, Fisher said he still would balance the fees with the city jail operating costs. "If (the costs) are less than the current budget, it's in our interest to not have a jail," Fisher said. If Spartanburg County chooses to charge its municipalities the same as Greenville County, $37 per inmate per day, it may be more economical to close the city jail. With an average of 25 inmates at $37 a day, the total annual cost would be $337,625. That's $18,000 less than Fisher's current operating budget of $355,955. But municipalities without jails wouldn't get anything out of a county-imposed charge for prisoners sent to jail by city judges. Woodruff, already laden with bills for three juveniles incarcerated in Columbia last summer, isn't going to look kindly on another prisoner-related fee. Mayor Guy Blakely said Woodruff has yet to pay the more than $50,000 the city has been charged for housing the girls, who still are awaiting sentencing for the May 27 murder of 19-year-old Kimberly Dawn Hughes. Cowpens Police Chief Wayne Butler also said his budget can't absorb additional mandated fees. "We can't afford to pay it," Butler said. "We don't even budget for that kind of stuff." Butler said most city inmates don't stay in the jails long. "About 90 percent are out (on bond) within hours," said Butler, who serves as president of the Police Chiefs Association. Assistant County Administrator Alan Ours said the subcommittee is in a research phase and has not come up with any proposals for County Council. The tedious research has been left to Powers, who is calling county detention directors one by one. Perry Eichor, the Greenville County jail director, said he has always been surprised that Spartanburg County did not charge cities that utilize the county jail. Eichor, also vice president of the Jail Association, said he is sure his jail overcrowding problems, which have his jail facility 75 percent over capacity, would be worse if Greenville County didn't charge.