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Virus forces inmate release at Berkeley County jail, Dorchester County considering

Inmate release being discussed at Dorchester County Jail

Inside the L.C. Knight Detention Center. The 83,000-sq-foot facility sits on 19-acres on Hodge Drive.

COVID-19, the virus that has gripped the country and the world now has local law enforcement considering something that would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago—releasing inmates.

The Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office is currently taking a look at the idea. Lt. Rick Carson, the Public Information Officer at the DCSO, said the plan to release some inmates is being discussed and reviewed but no decisions have been made yet.

The Berkeley County Detention Center has already released some inmates this week following concerns raised by the courts regarding inmate safety with the virus.

“We talked to the magistrates and the Solicitor and started looking at cases with bond reductions and personal recognizance bonds,” said Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis. “Also those people who have completed at least half or a little more than half of their sentence, which would have been 30-days. The judges issued some releases for some of those people.”

The sheriff said they were able to cut the population by about 30 inmates through the courts.

“No one is being released that’s in there for a serious crime against people or serious drug offences,” he said. “They are very low risk for trespassing, petty larceny, simple assault or something of that nature.”

The idea to release inmates is not new in the battle with the virus. So far close to 100 people in South Carolina have tested positive. Nationwide that number has grown to over 15,000 in less than a month.

“I certainly didn’t think we would get to this point but as you can see this virus situation is ever changing and changing daily,” Lewis said. “We’re seeking advice from the Sheriff’s Association the Governor’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office and others.”

With the recent inmate release combined with additional inmates getting transferred to the Department of Corrections, the Berkeley County Detention Center is experiencing inmate numbers not seen in years.

“We got the population down below 300 which is really remarkable,” said Lewis.

To keep the numbers down the sheriff said, for the short term, he is having deputies write more citations for low level offenders, rather than making an arrest and sending them off to jail.