A state Department of Corrections inspection found several deficiencies related to overcrowding and facility design inside the Aiken County detention center, but a jail administrator said despite the deficiencies, the jail's average population has continued to decrease.
The annual inspection was conducted on Feb. 12, 2013. A report of the findings was provided to Aiken County Council.
“All noted deficiencies were based on overcrowding and facility design, which would require expansion of the facility and additional staff in order to alleviate the lack of compliance,” the report to County Council stated. “While there is fluctuation in inmate population from week to week and the average population has decreased in recent years, we are still considered overpopulated by the South Carolina Department of Corrections. We believe that planning and consideration should begin towards expansion of the facility to meet tomorrow's needs.”
The report tagged the Aiken jail for a violation of classification categories. Facilities are required to separate inmates by male and female, sentenced and non-sentenced, inmates with special problems, such as alcohol or narcotic addicts or handicapped inmates and juvenile detainees.
“During times of overcrowding, compliance with this standard is not taking place,” the report stated. “More living space is also necessary even at other times in order to properly classify and separate inmates.”
The report found the jail doesn't have enough “special purpose” cells, which are designed to prevent injury to an inmate who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or who may be uncontrollably violent. Also, the report found “at times of overcrowding,” the proper ratio of toilets and sinks for inmate use was not available, as well as the ratio of shower heads.
The jail doesn't have enough single-occupancy cells for inmates with severe medical disabilities, inmates suffering from severe mental illness, sexual predators and inmates likely to be exploited or victimized by others, according to the report. It found a couple of other violations related to overcrowding in the housing units.
Those violations are nothing new for the detention center, according to Capt. Nick Gallam, jail administrator.
“Every year, we get dinged by the Department of Corrections for the same standards that we don't meet,” he said, noting that all of the discrepancies have to do with facility design and overcrowding.
The jail's rated capacity is 317 inmates, and the average daily population last year was 318, Gallam said. In 2010, the jail entered into a feasibility study, which found the jail's average population in 2004 was 338. That increased to 427 in 2008.
“Since 2009 or so, it's been coming down,” Gallam said. “We haven't seen 318, pretty much, since we moved in to this facility.”
Gallam said the rule of thumb with jails is that a facility is considered full once it reaches 85 percent capacity. Most of the additional space is needed for classification purposes. Inmates in the jail are designated one of the following custody levels: Minimum, medium, maximum and super maximum. Housing assignments are based on an inmate's custody level.
“There's a science behind it,” he said. “We use a matrix system to determine where people go. It's for the safety of the inmates, for the orderly running the facility, for us to know who we're dealing with. Once you hit that 85 percent mark, you don't have places to move people.”
On personnel, Gallam said the jail has openings for detention officers, but finding qualified candidates to fill those spots is difficult. The jail had 154 applicants last year, but was only able to offer jobs to 24 of those.
There were several positives to take away from the report, including that the jail was in full compliance with state fire code, as well as the kitchen receiving a 100 percent rating from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. Additionally, the jail will soon have its own chaplain.
If the jail were to undergo any renovations, or if a new jail was built, Gallam said it would need additional female housing units.
“We have one female housing unit, so we have every classification in one female housing unit,” he said. It would also need additional male housing units, but Gallam said a new facility would be a tough sell to taxpayers.
“I think it's important for myself, the sheriff, the Solicitor's Office, everybody in County government to work together to do what we can to mitigate that problem of having to build that jail,” Gallam said.
The jail has been working with the Solicitor's Office to move cases through the judicial system rapidly to alleviate overcrowding in the facility. Additionally, it recently began a new electronic monitoring program that allows defendants to be monitored with a GPS device rather than be incarcerated in the jail.
With Aiken County's population on the rise, that's more people and, unfortunately, more crime. Gallam said it's important to plan for the future; but in the meantime, he and County officials will keep coming up with creative ways to decrease the jail population.
“We have to think about the future, but I don't think this is a dire need, as of right now,” he said. “We continue to think outside the box and come up with programs, like home detention and pushing cases through the court system and lowering the population that way, other than spending tax dollars to build additional housing units at the facility.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard.