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SC jail’s crowding cuts options, risks violence

 

PICKENS (AP) — The spread of methamphetamine and the resulting increase in arrests have packed the Pickens County jail with twice the number of inmates than its Corrections Department-rated capacity.

The overcrowding is leading to increased violence and limiting the ability of sheriff’s deputies to do their job, The Greenville News reported.

The facility is rated by the state Department of Corrections to house 93 inmates, but the average population has been more than 200 for over a year, jail administrator Capt. Keith Galloway said.

One block of cells that’s supposed to hold 10 prisoners is housing 20. Men sleep on mats rolled out on and under tables and on floors of cells or stand nearly shoulder to shoulder in the limited space.

The biggest threat posed by the crowded conditions is violence, with daily incidents ranging from verbal confrontations to physical scuffles, Galloway said.

“When you have more inmates than a cell was designed to hold, tempers can flare. It’s just a very potentially volatile situation,” said Cassie Walls, a criminal justice instructor with Greenville Technical College.

Sheriff Rick Clark said the majority of the jail’s inmates are awaiting trial for anything from drug charges to violent crimes. The overcrowding has become a greater problem as methamphetamine use has grown, Clark said. The crowding limits the ability to plan operations that could result in many arrests, he said.

“We want to up the game and target the criminals more, and we’re hampered by that right now,” Clark said. “It places a strain on us to not have a physical place to put a lot of them.”

Deputies often plan to serve outstanding warrants around times when court is in session, Chief Deputy Creed Hashe said. Court appearances tend to free up space as inmates are either released or handed over to the Department of Corrections to serve their sentences.

“There’s a lot of strategy that has to go in place,” he said.

The county may need to replace the jail with a newer, bigger one, Galloway said. He pointed to a spot in the floor of a cell block where collapsed plumbing was recently replaced. A group of prisoners had to be moved to another county’s jail while repairs were made.

“We’re dealing with a failing infrastructure here,” Galloway said. “To resolve the issue and to resolve the issue for future purposes, I think now’s the time to act on a new jail.

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