Taxpayers group supports action on county jail

Administrator signs contract with architecture firm

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter

PICKENS — Setting aside funding so it’s available if a new jail is built was a wise move on the part of county officials, members of the Pickens County Taxpayers Association agree.

Dan Winchester, representing the PCTA, spoke before county council Monday night.

The PCTA “endorses the construction of a new and/or an addition to the current jail complex,” he said.

“The fact that you set aside or encumbered around $23 million recently is tangible evidence of your wise and thoughtful recognition of a serious need of this county facility,” Winchester told council.

The current facility has “serious issues” including overcrowding, safety, sanitation and “concerns of justice and concerns of decency,” Winchester said.

“There are serious issues all around,” he said. “We are cognizant of other relevant issues surrounding this matter.”

The jail situation impacts a number of other issues, Winchester said.

“In addition to more space, you have included in your ‘16-’17 budget the addition of more attorneys to prosecute cases and move those people through,” Winchester said. “That is a good move. We also know that our resident judge is giving more time to the county to process the cases — and that is a good move.”

The management of the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office has been positive, Winchester said

“They have to precisely execute 24/7 the jail system under trying conditions and bad facilities and overcrowding,” he said.

“We are a law-and-order county,” Winchester said. “Further, we endorse the wise and thoughtful planning and the deliberate actions to move forward with this jail. It’s a viable issue in this county.

“I say we are a better people than we have been concerning our jail,” he continued. “We’re better than this. So let’s lay aside any pride of authorship of this matter and let’s get it done.”

County councilman Neil Smith said a jail expansion “is not going to fix all the problems that we have in the jail system.”

“The fact that Pickens County had to fund the two legal positions — one in the solicitor’s office and one in the county defender’s — that’s not a county function,” Smith said. “That’s a state function. The worst part that we have in all this, the state is trying to transfer the prison population into a jail population. If you start watching the sentences, you’ll see that more and more of these defendants are being released based on time served, which basically means the county taxpayers paid for that internment versus the state doing that. That’s not just a Pickens County issue. Counties throughout this state are building jails right and left. You also have the problem with mental health patients being put into the jail system.”

The county is going forward on the jail overcrowding issue, Smith said.

“But even after you build the jail, all of these issues are still state issues which need to be addressed by our delegation and our state house, which they haven’t done,” he said. “We appreciate you seeing the position that we’re in. We’re just happy we were able to set aside the money for the jail.”

“I said here there are other issues impacting this entire matter,” Winchester replied. “It’s not just building a building. They’re going to fill it up if we don’t correct the other issues. But I think we need to do our part. When you go through that jail, it’s not a pretty sight.”

During his report to council, interim county administrator Tom Hendricks said he has signed a contract with Moseley Architects for a 67,000-square-foot jail.

The first coordination meeting with the firm was set for Thursday, he said.