High number of inmates putting strain on J. Reuben Long Detention Center staff

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HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – The J. Reuben Long Detention Center has about 850 inmates, which is up from 650 last November.

That inmate population is putting a strain on Horry County Sheriff’s Office staff members, according to Sheriff Phillip Thompson.

“Obviously we’re staffed for a 650 average daily population,” Thompson said. “When you have 850, what that does is it creates a mandatory overtime situation and what you’re doing there is your people that are working then must come in on their day off.”

Over Memorial Day weekend, Thompson said the jail had 888 inmates.

“During Memorial Day weekend, we booked 307 people. Two-hundred-forty-some people were able to process through,” he said. “It’s creating a bottleneck.”

The county jail can hold up to 1,000 inmates, so it isn’t overcrowded. However, Thompson said he has to have a certain number of staff members on at all times, depending on the population.

“We’re understaffed,” he said.

Inmates’ stays at J. Reuben Long Detention Center are only meant to be temporary.

“We’re not a penitentiary here in Horry County,” Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said. “We’re a holding system.”

People stay until they get out on bond, make a plea, go to trial or serve a sentence under 90 days. Still, sometimes getting through the court system can take a while.

“We do have some that are in maximum security on us right now that are going on three, three-and-a-half years,” Lazarus said.

Thompson said that’s why the jail’s population has been increasing since the end of last year.

“We’re not getting people through the system as quickly as we did,” he said. “Our average number of bookings have not increased to where our numbers, our average daily population, have gotten to. It’s just the court system. We’ve got to work to get it done.”

That means the 276 employees at the detention center could have to work mandatory overtime.

“When you work someone three and four days, 12-hour shifts, in a row, they’re not going to be as sharp as they would be if they worked two 12-hour shifts,” Thompson said. “I’m concerned about their health, their well-being.”

According to Thompson, the Association of Counties did a staffing analysis last year and found at the time J. Reuben was housing 650 inmates, the detention center needed 15 more employees.

“Well, that was at 650. We’ve got 850 today,” Thompson said.

The sheriff’s office is working with the solicitor’s office, the public defender’s office and other organizations that run the court system to get people through at a faster rate.

“We’re not talking about people getting out on PR bonds and things of this nature,” Thompson said. “We’re just trying to get our cases through the system quicker and that takes a coordinated effort between a lot of different departments.”

The sheriff has also proposed adding a nighttime bond court. Right now, bond hearings are held at the jail at 9 a.m., and 2 p.m., so if anyone comes in later in the afternoon or evening, they can’t bond out until the next morning.

Thompson said he’d like to have another bond hearing around 9 p.m. That way, if inmates have bondable offenses, they don’t have to stay the night.

He also said this helps law enforcement officers because a judge will be available for warrants.

Thompson added that 14 new corrections officers were sworn in Monday. He plans to hire 15 more in July.

Copyright 2017 WMBF News. All rights reserved.

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