County approves state inmate agreement

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Darlington County Council has reversed course and voted by a count of 5 to 3 to approve an agreement to house state inmates at the Prison Farm. Of the 32 inmates housed at that facility, 20 are state inmates.

At council’s July 20 meeting, some members expressed concern that signing the state inmate agreement would commit the county to hiring additional guards in order to comply with federal PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) standards. Council voted at that meeting (4 to 3) not to sign the state agreement.

As a member of the prevailing side in that vote, council member David Coker opted to bring the agreement up for reconsideration at council’s Aug. 17 meeting.

Currently, Prison Farm inmates perform numerous cleanup and repair duties for the county and some municipalities. Council member Le Flowers voiced passionate objections to this compulsory physical labor.

“You’re taking incarcerated men and forcing them to do labor that you are unwilling to pay for,” said Flowers, who went on to call it “slave labor.”

Council has grappled in recent years with the pros and cons of closing the Prison Farm, and even voted to defund the facility in 2013 – a decision they soon reconsidered after strong protests from Prison Farm staff and community members.

Prison Farm supporters argue that it would be difficult to replace the labor done by prisoners, but county administrator Terence Arrington has suggested negotiating with the Palmer Pre-Release Center for the use of inmate labor, negating the need to spend over $700,000 a year to keep the Prison Farm open.

Coker noted that before the next budget cycle, he would like to see figures on the financial impact of using prisoners from Palmer.
When discussion concluded, five council members voted in favor of signing the state inmate agreement: David Coker, Dannie Douglas, Wilhelmina Johnson, Mozella “Pennie” Nicholson, and chair Bobby Hudson. Three voted against: Bobby Kilgo, Le Flowers, and vice chair Robbin Brock.

Also at this meeting, council unanimously requested an ordinance to repeal a requirement for empty mobile home park lots to pay the county’s $53 annual solid waste fee. Flowers suggested collecting the fee on mobile homes when they are issued moving permits instead of billing the park owner for every slip, whether it is occupied or not.

Council approved second reading for a $550,000 revenue bond for the county airport. This ordinance, No.15-23, would refinance approximately $520,000 in principal of the existing Airport Revenue Bond, freeing up capital to pay for $89,280 of equipment needs. These needs include a truck, tractor, and rotary mower for use at the Darlington County Airport.

Refinancing the bond would extend the term through June of 2025 without increasing payments, which stand at $67,000 per year. A finance rate of 4-percent was obtained from Carolina Bank. Borrowing would include about $12,000 in issuance costs.

The bond ordinance was scheduled for third and final reading at a special meeting on Aug. 24 at 6 p.m.

Darlington County Council chair Bobby Hudson (left) thanked Robert Thomas for fourteen years of service with Darlington County. Photo by Samantha Lyles

Darlington County Council chair Bobby Hudson (left) thanked Robert Thomas for fourteen years of service with Darlington County.
Photo by Samantha Lyles

Author: Duane Childers

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