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Thursday, September 12, 2013
Facts about the Aiken County detention center
-The Doris C. Gravat Detention Center, located at 435 Wire Road in Aiken, opened in June 2002. The jail was formerly located behind the Aiken County Sheriff's Office on Hampton Avenue.
-The jail was under the operation of the Aiken County Council until the Sheriff's Office took over in 2004.
-The jail is rated to hold 317 inmates based on staffing levels, the facility design, the number of basins and showers and square footage.
-Currently, the jail houses about 300 inmates; however, according to Capt. Nick Gallam, the population was down to 260 six months ago, and three years ago it was near 500.
-Inmates in the jail are either pre-trial or serving a sentence. Criminal sentences of 90 days or less are served in the jail, while sentences 91 days and up are served in the S.C. Department of Corrections. Civil sentences of more than 90 days can be served in the jail.
-Inmate mail is allowed at the jail; however, incoming mail is screened for “trigger words” and contraband.
-Deposits can be made to inmate commissary accounts by outside visitors either at a kiosk in the jail lobby or online.
The intake area of the Aiken County detention center is not what many would expect it to be.
Yes, there are a couple of cells and a restraint chair, but the overall area actually resembles a bus stop or a hospital waiting room, according to jail administrator Capt. Nick Gallam. There are rows of seats and a television mounted on the wall.
“It's not what people think of a jail,” Gallam said. “We try to demonstrate to the inmate that we expect normal adult behavior. Most people that come to jail are just like you and I; they made a mistake, and they're coming to jail, hopefully to bond out and face their day in court.”
A person in a control room inside the jail opens the metal gate for the arresting officer to drive in. At the intake area, a jail officer will do a thorough search of the suspect, looking for weapons or contraband.
A medical staff member will conduct a health screening on the suspect, taking a blood pressure reading and asking a series of questions about their health history, according to Gallam. The suspect's property will then be inventoried, and any money they are carrying will be inserted into a kiosk and can be used while they are in jail.
During booking, an officer takes the suspect's charging documents, will ask them several questions, enter their charging information into a computer and print out their booking sheets for a file. They will then be fingerprinted and their mugshot taken.
A phone is available in the intake area for them to call family, an attorney or a bondsman while waiting for a bond hearing. A suspect could be in the intake area for up to 12 hours, according to Gallam.
“We kind of know through our system who's going to be able to bond out,” he said. “If a guy comes to jail, and he has a bench warrant where he has to either do time or pay a fine, he's not going to bond court. We'll go ahead and process him, dress him out and move him over to a housing unit.”
Bond hearings are held 365 days a year at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Gallam said a person brought in for shoplifting at 11 a.m. could go to bond court at 3 p.m. and possibly be out that day.
“We'll leave him in (intake), hoping that he'll make bond,” he said. “Most people that come to jail bond out.”
Bond hearings are held in a courtroom on the first floor of the detention center. There's a stand at the front of the room where the judge and clerk sit and a table at the back of the room for defendants to sit. Behind the defendant's table is a room for the victim to sit if they wish to attend a hearing. One-way mirrored windows keep the defendant from knowing the victim is there; and on the side is a room with regular windows for the defendant's family to sit.
The number of inmates appearing at a bond hearing can vary, according to magistrate Judge Tracey Carroll. Three inmates appeared on Friday afternoon.
The bonding process will be discussed further in the next installment in this series. Any person who does not make bond is sent to one of six housing units, also known as “pods.”
Home sweet home …
Male inmates go to A-pod, which is where they will be assessed and classified. They have to stay there for at least 72 hours. Female inmates are assessed and housed in one pod. “We want to get a good gauge on them before we put them somewhere,” Gallam said. “We want to see what their behavior's going to be. We want to see if they're going to be violent.”
The most violent inmates go to the supermax pod, where they have very few privileges. Inmates there only get one hour outside of their cells each day, and they don't get to keep any items in their cells except for issued items and religious material.
“Life's not that great,” Gallam said. “You get more privileges with the better classification you get.”
Evaluations for classification are done every 30 days, with an inmate's past and current behavior being taken into account, according to Gallam. However, just because someone is re-evaluated doesn't mean he or she will get a better classification. Also, an inmate's classification isn't necessarily based on his or her offense.
“When that person accused of murder comes in, they might start off in a higher classification,” he said. “But as they're here and demonstrate what we call normal adult behavior, we reward that behavior with a lower classification. They get more privileges.”
Gallam said people often disagree with the reward-based system.
“You have a reward-based system where you do an inspection once a week, and whatever housing unit is the best and doesn't have any disciplinary issues, you go to a Redbox and rent a 99-cent movie, play it over our cable system and reward them for having good behavior,” he said. “One thing you've got to remember is, the people in this jail, for the most part, are pretrial. They haven't been convicted of anything.”
In the direct supervision and open housing units, inmates can watch TV, use the restroom and shower whenever they need, use the phone or go outside in the recreation yard. They are also privileged to the commissary, from which they can order a variety of things including hygiene items, underwear, socks, T-shirts, candy bars or letter-writing supplies.
The detention center will only provide hygiene items if an inmate is indigent, Gallam said.
“Our thinking is, why should the taxpayers pay for people's soap and personal care items when they're spending money on honey buns and chips?” he said.
There is no cafeteria in the jail. All meals are prepared in the kitchen and brought to the pods, at a cost of about 94 cents per meal, according to Gallam.
The jail has a variety of programs available to inmates to help improve themselves while behind bars, according to Gallam. They include Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and the Good News Prison Fellowship. Inmates can also prepare for the GED and actually take the test while incarcerated.
“The biggest misconception of a jail is, people take what they see on TV and think that's what it is, and that's not the case,” Gallam said. “Corrections has taken an upward swing to be more professional, more humane. It's not the 1960s. We treat people with respect, but it's still a jail.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.