Jail expansion praised

Charleston County Sheriff's Deputies and detention officers were among those who attended the opening Wednesday of the addition to the Charleston County jail. The project will ease overcrowding with modern jail concepts.

Brad Nettles

Lowcountry officials on Wednesday hailed the opening of a massive new addition to the Charleston County jail as a much-needed improvement that will improve efficiency, safety and living conditions for inmates.

More than 140 law-enforcement officials, elected leaders and others attended a morning ribbon-cutting at the 332,000-square-foot building, a $100 million project designed to ease chronic overcrowding at the Leeds Avenue jail.

Sheriff Al Cannon told the crowd the expansion was long overdue and will improve the quality of life for inmates and detention officers alike.

He and Chief Deputy Mitch Lucas, the jail's administrator, praised the work of detention officers who maintained order at the packed facility for years amid grim and stressful conditions.

The old Detention Center, last expanded in 1993, was built to house 661 inmates but brimmed with more than 2,000 people at times in recent years.

Unarmed and vastly outnumbered, detention officers kept the jail running smoothly while working 12-hour shifts in which they seldom had a chance to even taste fresh air, Cannon said.

"The staff in this facility is the single most important reason we have had as few problems as we've had," he said.

About 100 jail workers participated in the design of the four-story expansion, which makes the jail the largest in the state. The addition contains a new kitchen, laundry, infirmary, booking and processing rooms and 21 dormitory housing units that can each house 64 inmates supervised by a single officer.

The expansion increases the jail's capacity to 2,112 inmates, and its infrastructure can be expanded to accommodate 3,000.

Lucas said the facility will provide a more humane setting for inmates and greater opportunities for them to improve themselves while incarcerated.

County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor recalled how Cannon cornered him in an elevator some years ago and furiously pleaded for more space at the jail. Council's approval of the expansion in 2007 was a difficult, but very necessary, decision, he said.

"Sheriff," Pryor said, "help has finally arrived."

Reach Glenn Smith at gsmith@postandcourier.com or 937-5556.