No one wants to pay for a new jail

Published 7:11 pm Friday, April 6, 2012

Let’s pretend for a moment that every single person in the Beaufort County Detention Center is guilty of the crime for which they were detained. Let’s make that gross assumption of guilt, even though our judicial system’s foundation was built on the phrase “innocent until proven guilty.”

But let’s just say they’re all guilty anyway.

The prevailing argument against building a new jail is that all those guilty people don’t deserve a new facility, the premise being that jail sentences are punishment and should be served in a harsh environment.

But even if everyone in jail is guilty, what about the men and women who work there? One detention officer said recently, “no one grows up wanting to be a detention officer,” but it’s a necessary job. Somebody’s got to do it. Someone has to go to work in the jail every day.

So, what’s it like when they go to work?

They work in a basement. When they’re on shift, they don’t see the light of day.  Their quarters are so cramped there’s no available space for them to sit down and eat their meals. Before Lexan glass was installed on the outside of the cellblocks, they were constantly assaulted by inmates, verbally and physically. Now that a state regulatory agency has ordered the Lexan to come down, it’s going to start all over again. They have very little visibility and often don’t know what awaits them around the corner. Every day the threat is there that this will be the day that something happens. What that something is — an injury, a death of one of their own — is unknowable. Every day the possibility for tragedy is there, the trifecta of stress-producers is complete with the physical, verbal and mental onslaught.

Does anyone deserve to work in such an environment? Would anyone want their husband, brother, sister, child, to work in that place?

No one wants to pay for a new jail, but detention officers perform a vital role in society, one that directly impacts the safety of our community. They deserve respect and appreciation. They deserve a new jail.