Editorial published December 20, 2000
Good management of jail isn't enough to ensure a trouble-free facility
Spartanburg County is getting a good deal in the operation of its jail. The average cost of keeping an inmate per day is less than $32, as opposed to a national average of more than $50.
Citizens can be grateful that a study done for the county shows the jail to be efficiently and effectively managed. Jail Director Larry Powers and his staff should be encouraged and complimented by the study. But the overcrowding revealed by the study shows that fine management and staffing won't be enough to ensure smooth and safe jail operations. The study, conducted by the Institute for Law and Policy Planning, should have raised some warning flags for county officials. It pointed out that the jail is overcrowded. The average daily inmate count is significantly higher than the facilities were designed to house. Add to this situation the study's finding that the jail is understaffed. No matter how good the county's jail personnel are, an overcrowded jail run by an undermanned staff represents a serious risk for the county. These two factors have the potential to feed on each other. Overcrowding poses additional risk of inmate violence, injury and illness. The undermanned staff means that overworked guards will be less able to monitor inmate health or to successfully intervene to stop violent events. The study made several recommendations that deserve consideration from county and state officials. When the main jail was built, it met the county's requirements, but it no longer does. County officials should consider building the additional cell pod that jail officials have requested. The study indicates that the pod would not only reduce overcrowding, it would allow the jail to use its staff more efficiently. But although the county is responsible for the jail, county officials cannot solve the jail's problems on their own. They should have help from the state's criminal justice system. The main reason for the overcrowding is that the average inmate is staying longer at the jail. That problem can and should be addressed through the home detention programs and the lowered bail amounts recommended in the study. Incarceration should be reserved for those accused of violent crimes and those authorities think may not show up for their trials. Bail is not a method of punishment, so it doesn't have to be strict. It is merely a method of ensuring that a defendant will show up in court. Spartanburg is not the only county struggling with jail overcrowding. State officials should look into methods that will remove inmates from jails while they await trial and explore alternative sentences, such as home detention, for nonviolent offenders.