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Richland County jail inspection finds inadequate staffing as state awaits answers

Richland County Administration building sign (stock) (copy)

Staff shortages at the Richland County jail require that employees be saddled with overtime and still leave the site understaffed, the most recent state inspection found. File

 

COLUMBIA — Staff shortages at the Richland County jail require employees be saddled with overtime and still leave the site understaffed, the most recent state inspection found.

Some 65 percent of the correctional officer positions at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center were unfilled as of its most recent annual inspection by the state Department of Corrections, which came after the county had agreed to raise pay and freeze dozens of open positions at the facility. The September inspection also found some units housed more inmates than the rated capacity and that other areas of the jail didn't include enough toilets to meet state jail standards.

It's unclear whether the county has directly addressed the issues raised in the report. Questions for county administrators and County Council Chairman Overture Walker weren't immediately returned April 11.

County Administrator Leonardo Brown has previously declined to comment on jail operations amid ongoing legal issues related to the facility. The jail's staffing has been at the center of a case involving the death of a man being held at the jail in February. 

The Corrections Department is awaiting a response as to whether issues raised in the report have been addressed and the status of the jail's leadership in the wake of the departure of interim Director Shane Kitchen in April, agency spokeswoman Chrysti Shain said.

Richland County Council met privately during a meeting April 5 to talk about the jail, later emerging for a public vote directing the county attorney to proceed as discussed behind closed doors without specifying the action being authorized. A three-member council committee that meets as needed about jail issues hasn't convened since the report, meeting calendars show. 

The jail had 172 vacant positions when the state state inspection occurred. That's out of 264 budgeted positions, though the county had decided in the months before the inspection to indefinitely freeze 50 of those vacant jobs. 

Four units of the jail had been closed due to inability to staff the areas, the report said.

County officials before the inspection had begun what they said was a multistep process in addressing staff levels and security issues at the jail. Starting pay for corrections officers was raised to $36,500 effective in August, up from $32,210. 

After a riot at the jail in September injured two officers, council members agreed to spend $3.3 million of federal COVID-19 relief money on security upgrades at the facility.

The state inspection later that month determined County Council needed to do more to increase incentive pay for employees and the county needed to better recruit for and fund open positions.

The jail director at the time of the inspection, Ronaldo Myers, was already set the retire the same month and was replaced by Kitchen. With Kitchen's departure, the jail's acting director is Capt. Washava Moye, Brown said. 

County officials have been hesitant to talk about operations at the facility amid pending legal issues after an Orangeburg man died while being held in the jail in February. The death was ruled a homicide April 6 by County Coroner Naida Rutherford, who said the jail staff's inaction led to Lason Butler dying due to acute dehydration.

"With litigation against the County being imminent, I'm not at liberty to discuss this matter," Walker, the council chairman, said in a statement April 6. "But it's imperative for the public to know that the health and safety of all individuals at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center are paramount to Richland County. Moreover, the County remains committed to taking actions that promote and enhance the health and safety of every individual at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center."

Attorneys for Butler's family have said he was neglected due to the staffing shortage at the jail and that they plan to file state and federal lawsuits.

Alvin S. Glenn is rated to hold 1,116 inmates, a number that state prison officials could reconsider if multiple housing units remain closed.

The average jail population in the months leading up to the inspection was 701 — 657 men and 44 women. Those detainees are overseen by 21 to 25 officers each shift, the inspection report shows.

The state Corrections Department conducts inspections at least annually, according to guidelines in state law. The governing body of the jail, in this case Richland County Council, is to meet "promptly" to address the findings of an inspection and is required to begin correcting any problems within 90 days.

County Council also has the option of voluntarily closing the jail. The Corrections Department director also has the authority under state law to close the jail if appropriate action hasn't been taken in response to a report.

The state agency hasn't considered closing the facility, Shain said.

Reach Stephen Fastenau at 803-365-3235. Follow him on Twitter @StephenFastenau.

Columbia reporter

Stephen Fastenau is a local government reporter covering the City of Columbia, Richland County and general assignments. He returned to Columbia after 10 years as a reporter at The Island Packet and is a University of South Carolina graduate.

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