Jail Conditions in Richland County Detention Center: SC Governor McMaster Suggests Jail Inmates are not “People”

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Jail conditions in Richland County are not humane, but that’s okay if the inmates are not human, right?

According to the governor of South Carolina, who is clearly looking forward to the next election cycle, people who are being held in county jails because they are accused of crimes are not people…

McMaster wants to “close the revolving door” – keeping people those dirty criminals on the inside…

Inmates – real people who have been accused of but not convicted of a crime – are dying in South Carolina’s prisons. They are dying from lack of oversight, lack of appropriate facilities, lack of staff training, and insufficient staff. The ones who don’t die as they await trial are suffering unnecessarily.

Our jails and prisons are overflowing with people because our nation is addicted to mass incarceration and because our politicians make policies based on what they believe will get them reelected instead of logic or compassion.

SC Governor Wants More Incarceration: Jail Inmates are Not “People”

Governor McMaster did not say, verbatim, “I don’t think jail inmates are people.” Context matters, right?

What did he say, exactly?

His priority is “bail reform” in South Carolina. By “bail reform,” he means we should keep more people locked in county jails while they await trial.

When a defense attorney suggests that this is a bad idea because McMaster’s version of “bail reform” disproportionately impacts poor defendants, McMaster says he understands, but he doesn’t share those concerns:

“If you have the ability to pay the bond, you can get out. If you don’t have the money to pay bond, you’re going to sit in jail,” she said.

Benevento pointed to the conditions in some county jails where the defendants, all of whom are presumed innocent, would be held.

Jails in North Charleston, Columbia and Spartanburg have been under intense scrutiny in recent months following a string of inmate deaths and reports of appalling conditions.

McMaster said he understood but did not share the concerns about making bail more expensive.

Why doesn’t he share those concerns? Because he is worried about people getting killed:

“I’m less worried about overcrowding than I am about people getting killed,” he said.

777 people died in prisons, jails, and detention centers in South Carolina from 2015-2021, and at least some of those deaths were caused by the State of South Carolina due to overcrowding, lack of supervision, lack of medical care, or straight-up violence by guards or other inmates.

McMaster is not concerned with these deaths, however, because he is worried about people getting killed – the hypothetical deaths that may occur if inmates (who are apparently not people in McMaster’s worldview) are released on bail.

We need to “lock ‘em up” – McMaster’s constituency’s favorite phrase – and keep ‘em there. That’s what gets a Republican elected in today’s American society because that’s what people want to hear.

Richland County, SC, Jail Conditions

The wife of a man who is incarcerated – pretrial – at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center (the Richland County Jail) thinks that inmates are people:

“No matter what they did wrong, yes, they did wrong, and some of them didn’t do wrong, but they’re still human,” said spouse Marquita Townes.

She was commenting on recent videos that came from inmates at the Richland County Jail showing inhumane conditions like disconnected toilets and sinks, sewage floating in cells, uncooked food, no running water in sinks, and showers backing up.

The facility responded to the videos, in part, by assuring the public they will fix the problem of inmates having contraband cell phones with which to record the inhumane conditions:

“Additionally, the release of these videos also indicated that there are flaws in the security system, which is intended to prevent detainees from obtaining contraband cell phones, and we are working to correct that.”


South Carolina Jail Conditions

The problem is not limited to Richland County – jails and prisons across the State of SC have an unacceptable number of deaths of **people in state custody, including the Spartanburg County Jail and Charleston County Jail.

The Root of the Problem: We are Addicted to Mass Incarceration but Don’t Want to Pay for It

When we talk about a class of people – inmates, for example – as if they were not human, we are demonizing that group of people. They are not human – they are more like cockroaches to be exterminated, and so we don’t need to feel feelings when we hurt them…

Why would politicians want to demonize inmates in county jails who have not yet been convicted of a crime?

Because it gets votes…

A large part of the voting public wants to see politicians get “tough on crime.” Not in a reasoned, rational, logical way. They want to see people get hurt – the numbers don’t lie, and we are addicted to mass incarceration.

According to most estimates, the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation in the world:

  • The US has about 5% of the world’s population, but 20% of the world’s prison population,
  • Since 1970, the US’s incarcerated population has increased by 500% – approximately 2 million people are incarcerated in our nation today,
  • One in three black males can expect to be incarcerated at some point in their life, compared to one in six Latino males and one in 17 white males,
  • Approximately $80 billion is spent on our nation’s prison system each year – money that could have gone to education and crime prevention, and
  • Black Americans are incarcerated for drug offenses at a rate 10 times higher than white Americans, although blacks and whites use drugs at roughly the same rates.

South Carolina Wants to Keep People in Jail but Doesn’t Want to Pay for It

Apart from our nation’s and state’s addiction to locking up our citizens, what is the root cause of the deplorable jail conditions in South Carolina?

They don’t want to pay the bill

Staffing has been a major problem at the detention center for years, according to previous audits. Most recently, jail officer positions were about 57 percent filled, Harvey told a committee of County Council members in March. That number is up from 48 percent during the state’s October 2022 audit and 35 percent in 2021.

According to the Richland County Administrator, they can’t keep positions filled because people just don’t want to work in a jail:

“This particular environment is not one where people are excited about working,” Brown said. “That’s why we find this to be an issue across multiple counties throughout the state of South Carolina as well as in Richland County.”

It’s not because of the compensation they offer people for working in a dangerous and high-stress environment like a detention facility, which was increased in 2022 to a base salary for jail officers from $32,000 to $40,000.

How much does the Richland County Administrator make? According to the State.com, the new administrator’s salary will be $181,000 a year plus a $9000/ year vehicle allowance… No trouble filing that position.

Is $32,000/ year a reasonable salary for a jail officer? Does it attract quality, qualified personnel? A manager at McDonald’s makes an average $63,031/ year, so my guess is that the Richland County Jail is getting fewer qualified employees than Mcdonald’s.

How does Richland County Jail fix this problem? By implementing “on-the-spot hiring for candidates who pass a background check.” Only the best

The County Administrator, despite the less-than-McDonald’s salaries, overcrowding, lack of staff, housing unit closures, inmate deaths, lack of supervision, malfunctioning locks, rats, bugs, raw sewage, uncooked food, and other deplorable conditions, has assured us that “the county will “spare no expense” during the coming budget cycle.”

So, sure, McMaster, let’s keep more people in the county jails.

Criminal Defense Lawyers in Columbia, SC, and Myrtle Beach, SC

The criminal defense attorneys at the Thompson & Hiller Defense Firm focus exclusively on criminal defense cases in SC. We have obtained dismissals, pre-trial diversion resulting in dismissals, or acquittals following trial in hundreds of criminal cases, and we have a record of proven results.

If you have been charged with a crime in SC or if you think you may be under investigation, call us now at 843-444-6122 or contact us through our website for a free initial consultation to find out if we can help.