Bill should relieve crowded jails

YORK -- Inmates at the York County Detention Center will soon have more bed space thanks to a new $4.4 million statewide measure that will step up prison manpower and eventually allow officials to send more sentenced inmates to state prisons.

As of Wednesday, the York-based detention center housed 376 inmates, officials said. Nineteen of those were transferred to a state prison last week. However, officials typically transfer fewer inmates due to statewide manpower and inmate bedding deficiencies.

The funding will bring change, said Josh Gelinas, spokesman for S.C. Department of Corrections.

"Right now, we have to restrict the number of inmates that are brought to our state prisons," Gelinas said. "The spending will allow us to accept the county's inmates every week."

Earlier this month, Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed a move to limit the amount of inmates county prisons could transfer to state prisons. However, the legislature overrode Sanford's veto.

Ralph Misle, chief jail administrator at the York County Detention Center, is pleased with the effort.

"If I have 20 to 30 people who have been sentenced sitting here, the state will take them off my hands," Misle said. "I will gain more bed space."

The endeavor also means extra employees can be hired at Kirkland Reception and Evaluation Center, a Columbia-based center where inmates are initially processed; Broad River Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison about 20 minutes from downtown Columbia, and MacDougall Correctional Institution, a medium-security jail in Ridgeville.

The $4.4 million effort will allow DOC to hire 24 employees at Kirkland, Gelinas said.

"That will allow us to open a 192-bed dormitory at Kirkland," he said.

The funding will provide 23 full-time security employees who will help staff a 256-bed dormitory at Broad River. In addition, 10 new employees will help oversee 96 beds at MacDougall Correctional Institute, Gelinas said.

For now, officials say, York County Detention Center inmates may feel a pinch from overcrowding. The average jail population peaked from 315 inmates in February to 373 in June, Misle said.

Restricted and delayed transfers play a role in the fluctuating number, Misle said. On Jan. 25, 12 sentenced inmates were shipped to Columbia after an average wait of 13 days. Another 12 were shipped on Feb. 27. They also waited an average of 13 days, adding to overcrowding issues, he said.

Last month, the inmate population swelled to 395. The overcrowding is hampered by the fact that the detention center only has 317 beds, Misle said. To fix the problem, officials pull out extra cots and put mattresses on the floor. They also use the infirmary, which currently houses eight inmates, two of whom are there for medical reasons, he said.

"You have to make do with what you have," Misle said. "We have to deal with what's happening today, tomorrow and in the immediate future. I don't see any immediate relief."

But extra DOC employees will bring relief to overcrowded inmates and stop delayed transfers, Gelinas said.

"Whatever number York County has, they can bring," he said. "There will be zero wait time."