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Old 07-14-2007, 05:45 PM
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Default State addresses inmate backlog Corrections Department to cut processing time

State addresses inmate backlog

Corrections Department to cut processing time, let go of quotas


Item Staff Writer


Newly sentenced inmates will soon have a shorter wait before being processed by the S.C. Department of Corrections.

The state's 2007-08 budget includes funding to allow the state Department of Corrections to expand its reception and evaluation capacity and open more inmate beds, mitigating some of the problems counties, including Sumter, experience with the cost of housing inmates.

According to S.C. Department of Corrections Director Jon E. Ozmint, eligible inmates are now being accepted within one business week after the DOC is notified.

Previously, the department accepted a predetermined number of inmates each week, backlogging the state's holding facilities.

By law, those sentenced to more than a year in prison are supposed to be transferred to Kirkland Reception & Evaluation Center in Columbia to be processed, then sent to a state correctional facility.

The time gap between sentencing and transfer left many counties footing the bill to house inmates awaiting transfer.

Sumter County Administrator Bill Noonan said the Sumter-Lee Regional Detention Center has been housing such inmates for periods up to a month before they are transferred.

Noonan said the county spends about $50 per inmate per day to house those awaiting transfer to the Columbia facility.

Hypothetically, the county could spend about $10,000 for 10 inmates housed for 20 days. Costs include medical care and food, as well as paying the detention center's employees.

"It's costly to local taxpayers," Noonan said.

The proviso would also allow some male inmates to be processed on Fridays. Previously, only female inmates were processed on Fridays.

"We intend to maintain our commitment to empty each jail of eligible, sentenced inmates within every five working days," Ozmint said.

The state is currently dealing with the overcrowding of more than half of its correctional facilities. As of mid-June, 18 out of 32 facilities were operating at 95 percent or more of their capacity, according to the S.C. Department of Corrections.

The Sumter-Lee Regional Detention Center usually averages about 425 inmates, according to Capt. Theresa Ray-Lee, administrative captain.

Ozmint said in a memorandum sent to the state's county officials, the greatest need now is for maximum security beds. He said recent funding had made it possible to open the state's last maximum-security housing unit.

"... If the Legislature does not soon authorize and fund the construction of more prison space, this relief will be short-lived," he said.

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