EDITORIAL: Jail investment is now paying off
It wasn’t that long ago when Laurens County invested $6 million in expanding and renovating the Johnson Detention Center. It wasn’t to make it a country club; it was to make it one of the most secure facilities in the Upstate, and to provide enough beds to accommodate the Laurens County jail population, and just a little more.
Now, that investment is paying dividends.
Laurens County inmates are secure. There is room enough to provide life-enhancement activities while the men and women are locked up, paying their “debt to society.” Yes, the video-bonding that was going to revolutionize the way jailers and magistrates deal with bond hearings has not materialized. But, there are glitches in everything, and there’s no reason to believe that video-bonding could not work with an additional investment in technology.
Laurens County Sheriff Don Reynolds has a gem of a facility, and the staff operates the jail with precision.
This is one thankless job, folks, and we should be thankful every day that we have men and women willing to do it. The pay’s not great, the work is taxing - the worth to the community to have security for, and in some cases from, people who deserve to be in jail is immeasurable.
So, if the sheriff has a jail facility that is not over-crowded, and there is a neighboring sheriff who needs temporary help in housing inmates, why shouldn’t our sheriff strike a deal to help their sheriff? We think this is a good idea - the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office is contracting with the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office to house, temporarily, some inmates that will be displaced as Newberry County upgrades its jail.
But it sound so ominous - Laurens is going to house Newberry prisoners. Owwh, the bogey man is come to our very doorstep. It sounds like two rival gangs - something out of “West Side Story.” Relax, we won’t be transporting their prisoners back and forth to court. The same company that handles medical service for Laurens County jail handles it for Newberry County jail. The contract has been vetted by the person who handles risk-management for the State of South Carolina. What could go wrong?
In the worst case, plenty, of course. There could be a riot - Bishopville didn’t think it could happen either, until it did at the state prison right next door to the town. There could be escapes, there could be staffing hiccups, there could be contraband. These are the common, everyday risks that detention officers deal with all the time. Just because some of the “bad guys” are from Newberry doesn’t mean the officers need a new skill set to deal with them. Women prisoners come with their own set of needs, so Laurens County jail is not accepting them. Sentenced prisoners come with their own mental outlook, so Laurens County jail is not accepting them. The per-day charge to Newberry County is less than the per-day charge to Clinton and Laurens because the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office is sending personnel to assist in guarding all the Johnson Detention Center inmates. Booking and jail procedures are under LCSO guidelines - the NCSO officers will simply have to learn them, and the contract names two officers within the NCSO who will deal with any personnel issues involving the Newberry County detention officers.
All of this begs the question - why do we even have county jails? Why don’t we have regional jails - three counties go in together, buy a huge tract of swampland (unusable for residential and business development) and pro-rate the costs of having a prison - not for state inmates - for local people who are working out their issues with living in a society governed by laws. We suppose the answer is, “We’ve never done it that way before.”
Well, we’ve never made money (an estimated $315,000 profit for LCSO with this contract) housing prisoners before, either. This will be a good test case.