Beyond the jail cell walls

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Sheriff, officials to learn about detention centers

By Chris Sardelli

Dwindling space, combined with a quickly expanding prison population, are looming problems for Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile.
As crime remains high, and the number of jailed offenders awaiting trial continues to rise, Faile has watched the Lancaster County Detention Center experience severe growing pains. The facility is at 1941 Pageland Highway, behind the county’s 911 center.
“We have a 121-bed facility, but the detention center averages about 140 to 145 inmates a day,” Faile said.
About 80 percent of the detention center’s population is made up of pre-trail inmates, those people who are waiting to go to court, though there are many other special conditions that are pushing the facility to, and past, its capacity.
“We’re required by law to separate folks if they are of different gangs, the men from women, sentenced from non-sentenced, if we have inmates causing trouble, or if we have someone with medical problems,” he said. “With all that, we just don’t have the space we need.”
Noticing inmate numbers swell during the last decade, he expects the detention center to continue to become overcrowded.
“And who knows what the population will be 20 years from now? We may need 350 beds and at that point, maybe we can rent beds out to the federal government to help pay for it,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do with the jail we have. It’s been overcrowded for about 10 years. All we can do is build a new facility.”
With questions of planning and cost at the top of his mind, Faile hopes to find some answers as he and several county officials travel to Colorado on Aug. 18 to learn more about detention centers at the National Institute of Corrections.
“A while back, the National Institute of Corrections did an assessment of our jail. They looked at our problems firsthand and then gave us information about how to be more effective with what we have,” he said.
The next step in the process, Faile said, is attending the NIC’s Planning Of New Institutions program, or PONI. As part of the program, the NIC allows four representatives from a county to attend a one-week session at their Aurora, Colo. academy.
This year, Faile will attend the session, along with County Administrator Steve Willis, Lancaster County Council Chairman Larry McCullough and Capt. Larry Deason, who oversees the Lancaster County Detention Center.
“We’re invited to their school to talk about the planning stages of creating a detention center,” Faile said. “We’ll talk about the changes we’re going to face in building a new facility and they’ll train us how to move forward with the next phase.”
During the session, Faile and other representatives will explore first whether the county needs a new facility and if so, how to budget and plan for it. He said they will also look at how to get the community involved in the process.
“It’s going to take the whole community to make it happen,” he said.
He said the trip and training is not cost the county any money.
‘Great opportunity’
Willis said the goal of the trip will be to decide if the current detention center needs expanding or renovation, or if it’s time to construct a new facility.
As part of the trip, the group will have the chance to examine how other states handle some of the same overcrowding issues and see examples of other designs.
“There are many different types of designs out there. Our current design is linear and that takes a lot of staff to run versus a pod design, which is smaller and more contained, requiring less staff,” Willis said. “In the long run, a building is the cheap part and it’s the staff that gets expensive. We’ll look at the options.”
He said the one-week class will also allow their delegation to receive specialized advice.
“We’re going to look at the best options for Lancaster County from a long-term standpoint,” Willis said. “We’re the only group from the southeast attending and we’ll have a chance to speak to others about what they are facing.”
For McCullough, the trip provides a unique experience.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to go out there and also good to understand the process and learn things from the ‘best practices’ people, because these folks help and advise people throughout the country,” McCullough said. “They can help advise on new design techniques, new electronics and even talk about the idea of green buildings.”
At the top of his list of concerns, though, is figuring out how to pay for a new facility.
“You’ve got to find the cost of building the building, but then there’s the ongoing cost to operate it,” he said.
Important questions he hopes will be answered during the trip include how to design a new detention center, how to outline the process and how to get the community involved.
“It’s very important to get public input along the way,” he said. “And we need to plan because this will have an impact for 30 or 40 years.”
Despite the excitement of the trip, Faile said the county currently has no plans for a new detention center.
“I know this is a five to 10-year process and this is the starting phase to try and learn as much as we can so we don’t just jump the gun,” he said. “I think it’ll be good for us to give us some insight on training and help us prepare. It’s all about preparation.”
About the NIC
The National Institute of Corrections, an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Prisons, is headed by a director appointed by the U.S. Attorney General.
According to its website, the NIC operates the National Corrections Academy in Aurora, Colo., which provides training in leadership, management and specialized corrections topics at the local, state and federal levels.
Training at the academy includes varied topics, such as prison programming, staff training and mental health. The academy also offers a regional training initiative, providing corrections-related training to local and state governments.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416