County called on carpet over PREA non-compliance
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
At their June 6 meeting, Darlington County Council heard again of the urgent need to add guards to the Detention Center to make the facility compliant with federal PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) standards.
Blake Taylor, director of Compliance, Standards, and Inspections for the S.C. Department of Corrections, told council it was “critical that council at least begin increasing the staff” at the jail, which is currently 12 officers short of compliance levels.
This number was determined by a staffing analysis completed in April of 2014, and SC Corrections has repeatedly communicated in person and in writing that the county needs to take action to shore up this deficit. Taylor noted that Darlington County’s 2016/17 fiscal year budget showed no funding for jail staff increases, and he suggested that even adding one or two positions a year to show a good faith effort would be meaningful.
“I don’t think anyone expects you to fix the entire problem at once. That’s not realistic. But to go another fiscal year without addressing it at all would be something that we couldn’t defend,” said Taylor, adding that continued neglect would force the state to testify against Darlington County in any potential legal actions stemming from its protracted non-compliance.
“That’s not something we desire. We want to work cooperatively with you,” said Taylor.
Council member Bobby Kilgo offered that perhaps complying with such unfunded mandates would be easier if the state legislature did not regularly cut the Local Government Fund, which is meant to help counties and municipalities cover costs when these sorts of regulatory changes occur.
“You want us to spend money, but the state doesn’t want to help us,” said Kilgo.
Council member Mozella “Pennie” Nicholson inquired whether Darlington County was the only South Carolina county not in compliance with PREA.
“You’re not the only county to have less than your intended number, but you are one of the few that hasn’t made any progress,” replied Taylor.
County administrator Terence Arrington said that while his office is responsible for preparing the budget, council has the authority to make changes as they see fit. He also noted that the jail is under the administrative authority of an elected official – Darlington County Sheriff Wayne Byrd – and therefore he cannot impose staffing changes on that department.
“I did not include an additional person in the Detention Center budget, but I am prepared to talk about that,” said Arrington. “Council has final say. The Detention Center falls under the Sheriff. It’s not a department that I run.”
Taylor encouraged council to work with his office to formulate a plan, and suggested Darlington County might want to form a Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee where representatives from all parts of the local justice system (solicitor, public defender, magistrate, law enforcement, and corrections) work together and strategize ways to improve the backlog of cases and other issues confronting each arm of the system.