S.C. county promises $12M in jail upgrades as private security is hired to fill gaps
Planned improvements include upgrading inmate housing units and raising minimum pay for COs
By Morgan Hughes
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Richland County is planning upwards of $12 million in improvements to the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center and is supplementing staff at the jail with a private security firm in an effort to address safety concerns and other problems that have plagued the facility for years, county officials told reporters Thursday.
Those improvement efforts include upgrading inmate housing units, recently raising minimum pay for jail officers and spending $26,000 a week or more on private security to make up for ongoing understaffing, officials said.
Richland County’s Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center has repeatedly violated the same state standards, ranging from chronic understaffing to unattended cells, for at least the last three years, according to inspection reports by the S.C. Department of Corrections.
Four people held at the jail have died in the last 12 months. And in January, the Department of Corrections gave Richland County Council an ultimatum to fix the problems at the jail or face state intervention and potentially lose the ability to keep the facility open.
Richland County Administrator Leonardo Brown addressed many of the issues identified by the state during a briefing with reporters Thursday afternoon.
The jail has not had adequate staffing for at least the last three years. Employees often encumber overtime, and even then, staffing has been inadequate, the Department of Corrections has noted in the past three annual inspections of the jail.
In the most recent inspection, conducted Oct. 24, 2022, 124 positions at the jail were vacant. For each of the past three years, the staffing problems have led to more housing units being closed.
The county has hired a private security firm, Allied Universal, to supplement the staffing problems. Brown could not say how many people from that company are now working at the jail, but he said he anticipates the number will grow over time.
The county is paying that firm between $26,000 and $38,000 per week, county spokesperson Susan O’Cain confirmed, adding that the invoices from the firm have ranged from week to week.
Brown also noted that the county has raised the minimum salary for jail officers to $40,000 and has approved bonuses for existing and new employees to try to address the staffing problems.
The jail is still without a permanent director. The previously hired director, Tyrell Cato, was fired in September, two months after he was hired for the position. Cato had been fired from his previous job overseeing Kershaw County’s jail for sexually harassing an employee, but the county did not background check him before hiring him.
The jail’s assistant director, Crayman Harvey, has been serving as the interim director. Brown said Harvey is being assessed for the role of permanent director.
Major improvements are also underway in the jail’s kitchen and living units, Brown said. Three housing units are currently not in use as they receive plumbing and lighting upgrades. Upgrades for the housing units are estimated to cost $1 million per unit, Brown added.
Even with improvements underway, the county is required to provide the Department of Corrections with a formal strategy to address the jail’s problems by April 18. If that strategy is deemed unsatisfactory, the jail’s ability to remain open could be challenged.
Brown said he believes the steps the county is currently taking will satisfy the state’s mandate.
The Thursday press briefing was a rare chance for reporters to ask direct questions about the jail. County officials have previously declined to answer questions about the facility.
The jail has been under scrutiny for reasons beyond standards violations. Four people held at the facility have died in the last 12 months.
In February 2022, 27-year-old Lason Butler was found dead in his cell at the jail. An autopsy revealed he died of dehydration, and a report noted he had rat bites on his body. The Richland County Coroner deemed the death a homicide.
Thirty-eight-year-old James Mitchell was found dead Dec. 7 at the jail, but that’s all the information that has been shared about his death.
On Jan. 17, Demond Thompson died just two hours after arriving to the jail. The county has not shared any information about Thompson’s death beyond confirming the death to The State.
On Jan. 27, Antonius Randolph was found murdered at the facility. Five other detainees have been charged in his killing.
Brown declined Thursday to answer specific questions about the circumstances leading up to Randolph’s death, citing an active investigation. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott previously said cell doors at the jail don’t lock and that allowed five other people held at the jail to leave their cells and beat Randolph to death.
Brown said Thursday that cell doors do lock, but that the doors can be compromised because the security systems are outdated.
In addition to the state taking action against the jail, local attorney Bakari Sellers and the Strom Law Firm have also asked the U.S. Department of Justice to formally look into the problems at the jail. Sellers also is representing the family of Lason Butler in a civil rights lawsuit against the county stemming from Butler’s death in the jail.