Berkeley County jail far exceeded capacity every day of 2018
In the middle of Moncks Corner lies the Hill-Finklea Detention Center, the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office’s jail. Rated for a capacity of 291 inmates, the facility has seen many expansions to increase the amount of offenders it can hold, but as Detention Center Director Randy Demory and Sheriff Duane Lewis have said on several occasions, the penitentiary remains part of the 17 percent of U.S. jails at or above capacity.
“In 2018, we averaged 424 [inmates] and that’s not including the average 39 a day we had over in Charleston [County Jail] for overflow,” said Demory.
That same year, the jail peaked at 502 inmates, 73 percent over capacity. On average, 87 percent of the inmates in the Hill-Finklea Detention Center were awaiting their general session court hearing in 2018. Their average stay in the jail was a massive 155 days, roughly five months.
“For the most part, the ones that are sitting here in jail are here a lot longer than that,” explained Demory. “That 155 days includes the people who are out on bond the whole time, but then get found guilty and then come back to jail, and two or three days later, we send them off to prison. They’re pulling the average down.”
This average is heavily exacerbated by the slow wait for an inmate’s trial to begin, and is the key factor that created a plurality of prisoners, added Demory.
Jail-wide, the average stay is 26 days. While that may not sound like much compared to the general sessions court number, it is a significant amount.
“The thing that accounts for jail overcrowding is the number of people coming into the jail and then how long they stay. It’s just a mathematical equation from there,” Demory clarified. “If we could reduce the average length of stay by three days, from 26 days down to 23 days, would reduce the number of inmates in jail on average by 15 inmates a day.”
The most effective solution for the issue is to expand, or build a larger facility, and put more money into the Berkeley County Courthouse to create more courtrooms and “streamline” the legal process. All options are very expensive, but Demory was hesitant to offer up an estimated amount.
Berkeley County Councilman Josh Whitley said that, although there is no specific time frame for when it will appear in front of council, expanding the detention center is a high priority and a capital plan is being devised by new County Supervisor Johnny Cribb.
“As chairman of the courthouse committee for council, it is certainly a priority of mine,” stated Whitley, a Daniel Island resident. “I anticipate the capital plan will be forthcoming in short order and then we will face the difficult task of identifying revenue sources to address it.”
But, even if the money is procured, it won’t be a quick fix.
“If the county decided today, ‘let’s build a new jail,’ then we’re four years away from being able to move into something,” said Demory.
Sending more inmates to the Charleston County jail is one way to treat the symptom, but it does not ameliorate the overall problem.
A larger detention facility would benefit Berkeley County inmates and staff in more ways than one, as Demory described the penitentiary’s kitchen, laundry, and booking and intake areas all as inadequate. Proper medical care is also missing from the Hill-Finklea Detention Center, he said.
“There’s no infirmary in the jail, here. There’s no place to put sick people,” added Demory. “We send a guy up to the hospital, he spends a week in the hospital or something and he comes back to the jail, we just toss him back in the cell. We don’t have any medical observation area to put people.”
The Sheriff’s Office has no other choice but to put more prisoners in each holding cell, leading to cramped, uncomfortable, and invasive living quarters. Demory believes that this creates more regular violence in his jail, and some instances would become less common with a larger facility. “Nobody likes to be compacted so closely,” Demory said. “They don’t have any private space, at all.”
Overcrowding has long been a problem for the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office. According to the Third Annual Statistical Report, conducted in 2018, the jail’s rated capacity in 1991 was 88, while their inmate count was “around 120.” Three years later, a $4.1 million expansion gave the jail a capacity of 154 inmates.
A 2008 State Jail Inspection reported that the average inmate count for the facility was 431, even though it retained a capacity of 154. Over the next eight years, the number was raised to 291 thanks to a $10 million project to add three additional floors to the Hill-Finklea Detention Center.