Inmates wait for trial, Dorchester County jail at capacity with room to grow

Similar to other parts of the Charleston area, the Dorchester County Detention Center has to deal with its own set of issues when it comes to growth. With a growing population and a backlog of court cases, the new $23 million jail remains at capacity.

After the closing of the jail in St. George. The new facility opened in August 2016. All of the inmates in Dorchester County are housed at the jail, a couple miles from the Sheriff’s Department in Summerville.

“We are just about at capacity; we are 266 and this morning we were at 260,” said Dorchester County Sheriff L.C. Knight.

More people in the area will obviously bring more crime which means the court system takes a hit as well.

Information given to the Summerville Journal Scene through the Freedom of Information Act shows there are 30 inmates serving anywhere between 300 and 1,000 days in the Dorchester County Detention Center before they go to trial.

There is one inmate facing attempted murder charges who has been in jail for 1,075 days. The next four on the list are 954, 941, 790, 708 days. There is an array of reasons why this happens but the jail still has to hold them until they get their constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Most of the inmates on the waiting list are suspected of committing some serious crimes such as murder, kidnapping and sexual assault. There is one defendant on the list who has been in jail for over 400 days, on a possession of a stolen pistol charge.

The sheriff said despite being at capacity the jail is not a powder keg for violence. While not elaborating much about certain incidents, he said there has been one death inside the new jail since it opened.

“That was a young lady who had a vehicle accident was carried to the hospital checked and brought in, something happened, I don’t know whether the hospital missed it was something that came on a few minutes after the wreck but she died in the facility,” Knight said.

Major Rick Darling who oversees the jail added that in her case the coroner determined the woman died from internal injuries she sustained in the vehicle accident.

“We follow minimum standards,” Knight said. “Standards set by the Department of Corrections who comes in here every year and inspects us and makes sure we are following those standards,” he said. “I think you’ll find we do everything by the book.”

The jail in St. George was meant to hold 150 but Knight said in 2009 it had over 300 inmates. That is when a new detention center became a priority. It was built on 19 acres with room to grow. The administrative and storage areas at the jail is built for a facility with 500 inmates.

When it is time to expand the county will add new pods, each can hold an additional 64 inmates. And with the Population increasing, combined with the court’s slow grind, it will more than likely, have to be done more sooner than later.

“Our system right now it needs something, I don’t know what it is; the people in Columbia got to do something,” Knight said. “They’ve got to send some money down for the solicitor’s office for public defenders and for our judges,” he said. “I think everyone is working handicapped with the volumes they are trying to handle.”