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New, $29 million jail opens to inmates; county says facility more secure, under budget
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New, $29 million jail opens to inmates; county says facility more secure, under budget

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Orangeburg County Detention Center

Orangeburg County transferred its inmates last week from the old Ellis Avenue detention center to the new jail built right behind it.

Inmates at the Orangeburg County Detention Center moved into a new, $29 million jail last week.

The new jail came in $2 million under budget and is expected to provide a more secure environment for inmates, Orangeburg County Administrator Harold Young said.

For instance, the new facility has more than 300 cameras that help employees keep an eye on the entire facility.

“The sight lines from the booths of the control center are clean. The hallways are under video surveillance. The old jail had a lot of blind spots everywhere,” Young said.

The new jail was built behind the 40-year-old Ellis Avenue facility. Construction started on the new jail in late 2017.

One of the main improvements at the new facility is the boost in security.

Back on May 18, 2018, three inmates successfully escaped from the old facility after taking advantage of antiquated locking mechanisms on their cell doors and overpowering a guard in a control room.

Young said with the state-of-the-art security system at the new jail, escape attempts will be “highly minimized.”

In addition, there’s an internal fencing area with razor wire, he added.

At the old jail, jailers had to manually use keys to access certain pod doors and other areas. That meant jailers had more exposure to inmates, creating safety concerns.

At the new jail, doors can been opened and closed mechanically, Young said, making it safer for jailers.

Other advantages at the new jail include the ability to shut off the water supply to individual cells, rather than the entire facility.

Young said on occasion, inmates would flood their cells at the old jail. In those instances, the water supply had to not only be shut off from the affected cell, but the entire facility.

At the new jail, that’s not the case.

The sally port, or secure entryway, at the new jail is twice the size of the one at the old facility.

A larger sally port means easier accessibility for ambulances, should any inmate need to be transferred to a hospital for medical care.

The nurses’ station at the new facility is up front now, rather than in the back. This allows inmates to have quicker health assessments during the intake process.

Young said visits to inmates remain prohibited due to COVID-19 protocol, but noted there are nearly triple the number of video slots for visits when visitations begin again.

At the old jail, there were about five or six slots, Young said.

At the new jail, there’s a courtroom so bond hearings can take place there.

At the old jail, inmates were brought from the facility to a bond court inside of the Orangeburg County Law Enforcement Complex, which houses the sheriff’s office.

The old jail did not fully comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Congress passed PREA, as its shortened form is known, in 2003.

The purpose is to protect vulnerable jail and prison populations from rape. That includes people who are juveniles, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersexed, to name a few.

At the old detention center, Young said some of the inmates who fell under PREA guidelines had to be housed at other detention centers.

The new jail is compliant with PREA, he said.

The old jail had a maximum capacity of around 200 inmates, Young said, but the new jail can house 300.

He said there are roughly 250 inmates housed at the new jail.

Young said transferring the inmates from the old jail to the new one required multi-agency coordination in addition to COVID-19 protections for inmates and staff.

He noted the Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office, Orangeburg County EMS, Orangeburg Department of Public Safety, Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office, Orangeburg County Office of Emergency Services and the S.C. Law Enforcement Division were involved in the transfer.

“We created an ops plan that outlined safety requirements and also adhered to the S.C. Department of Corrections protocol concerning COVID,” Young said.

“Inmates were given surgical masks during the entire time of the move,” he said.

The inmates received new uniforms and bedding as part of the transfer.

He said there haven’t been any inmates who’ve tested positive for the virus since the pandemic outbreak.

Young noted that 17 staff members tested positive. Three have been hospitalized.

He said that there is currently one staff member who’s positive for the virus and that person is hospitalized. He said the employee is not on a ventilator.

As for the fate of the old jail, a wing of it will be torn down to create parking for the new jail, Young said.

Areas of the old jail may be renovated and repurposed, Young added.

He noted that areas of it may be refurbished so that the sheriff’s office may expand there.

He said discussions are also taking place about expanding the morgue of the Orangeburg County Coroner’s Office.

Contact the writer: mbrown@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5545. Follow on Twitter: @MRBrownTandD.

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