Laurens County Council was told officially Tuesday night of a contract that will bring Newberry County jail inmates to the Johnson Detention Center, between Clinton and Laurens, while the Newberry jail is under renovation.
A clearly irritated council chairman Joe Wood said the first he learned of the arrangement was at the Anderson Jockey Lot.
Wood said he has very serious reservations about the arrangement, but conceded it’s not a county council decision to make. Laurens County Sheriff Don Reynolds is contracting the arrangement with Newberry County; Reynolds said there is a 30-day “opt out” and added, “If I see the thing is going south, I’m going to pull the plug on it.”
Reynolds said the $315,000 that Newberry County will pay the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office to house 35 inmates will pay for a renovated kitchen at the Johnson Detention Center. Wood said there is an issue of “wear and tear” on the Johnson Detention Center, which underwent a $6 million renovation financed by Laurens County taxpayers.
The Sheriff’s Office charges Laurens County cities $35/day to house inmates and will charge Newberry County $25/day to house inmates – the average daily census of Newberry County inmates will be 35, the council was told (the contract will start after Aug. 20).
Wood said the Newberry County inmates will eat more than $25/day in food, not counting linen and guarding costs. Newberry County is sending 4 day officers and 3 night officers to the Johnson Detention Center to work with LCSO detention officers.
“They don’t eat $25 a day,” Reynolds said. “If you ask them, they’d probably say they (get fed) $2 a day.”
Council was told it is a better arrangement for Newberry County than contracting with another county, because Laurens County is closer. No female inmates and no sentenced inmates will be coming from Newberry County to the Johnson Detention Center.
Wood said after someone asked him about Newberry County prisoners being housed in Laurens County, he asked County Administrator Jon Caime and County Attorney Sandy Cruickshanks about it. “That’s when I found out Mr. Cruickshanks had drawn up the contract,” Wood said. “Laurens County Council is responsible for that jail, we have a vested interest in this.”
Aside from Wood, no other council member seemed to have a problem with the arrangement. A full contingent of 7 council members attended the June 12 meeting, moved to the Hillcrest administration building because the council chambers were used as elections central for the Republican-Democratic primaries results-reporting.
Reynolds said the contract is among the changes he is making in dealing with inmates – because an officer was hurt recently, the sheriff said from now on, mental transport patients will wear leg irons when they are being transported by LCSO officers.
The council was told that $50/day is the maximum Newberry County could have been charged, but that figure is charged by very large jails, like Charleston, that have other amenities like a full-time infirmary. Reynolds said Newberry County is getting a $10/inmate break because it is sending officers to assist with the shifts at the Johnson Detention Center.
“The state risk-management guy signed off on it,” Reynolds said.
“This could lead to some serious circumstances for our citizens and our detention center,” Wood said.
Council did not have to make an approval/disapproval motion – the decision is Sheriff Reynolds’ to make.