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Pickens County jail built for 91 inmates has 200 prisoners

PICKENS, S.C. (AP) — An inmate injured last month in a fight at the Pickens County jail is suing the county saying he wouldn’t have been hurt in the jail wasn’t so crowded.

The jail has about 200 prisoners in a facility designed to hold 91 inmates. Building a new jail with more room would cost around $25 million, likely requiring a tax increase County Council does not appear ready to pass.

“We have reserves, but $25 million will eat your reserves up overnight,” Councilman Neil Smith told The Greenville News.

Federal experts from the National Institute of Corrections told the county in late 2014 that overcrowding raised the stress level at the jail to the point where it was “an event waiting to happen.”

A fight on April 22 sent two inmates including the one who sued to the hospital. Eight prisoners were charged with assault.

Cell blocks show the overcrowding. One the size of a typical bedroom has had as many as 24 prisoners. Blankets and pillows are laid out in the floor, scattered around a picnic-style metal table. There’s one toilet, one sink, and a shower stall in the corner.

The overcrowding happens because of several different problems, County Councilman Tom Ponder said. There is a shortage of bed space in mental health facilities, a backlog in the movement of cases through the court system, and overloading from the municipal courts in the county.

“It’s not all the solicitor’s fault, it’s not all mental health’s fault, it’s not all the sheriffs fault,” Ponder said. “It’s a joint venture and it’s going to take cooperation of all these agencies.”

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