Jail inmate numbers on the rise

Published 9:07 pm Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Already plagued with overcrowding, the Beaufort County Detention Center is projected to suffer more of the same over the next few years.

Based on historical data of the numbers of inmates cycling through the jail, 2012 will see a 2.3-percent increase in annual jail admissions, according to Todd Davis, director of criminal justice planning and development with Moseley Architects.

“It’s a pretty substantial increase,” said Davis. “For a county this size, it’s not out of line, but it is showing more people are being arrested. We have no reason to believe it’s not going to continue to rise at that rate.”

Davis’s firm was hired by the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners in April to study the county jail and determine what a new one could look like, how many inmates it would hold and, ultimately, how much it would cost county taxpayers.

Tuesday night, Davis met with a county-appointed committee charged with studying the jail issue, including Commissioners Jerry Langley, Al Klemm and Hood Richardson; Sheriff Alan Jordan, Chief Deputy Kit Campbell, jail administrator Capt. Catrena Ross and County Manager Randell Woodruff. In a presentation to the committee, Davis rolled out the numbers, factoring in the 2.3-percent increase expected for 2012 to project the number of inmates Beaufort County can anticipate accommodating over the decades to come.

According to Davis’ calculations, the jail is on course for 3,462 admissions this year. In 2018, that number rises to 3,990, then to 4,599 in 2024. By 2035, it climbs to 5,968, with the average daily population surging to 171 inmates, with 207 actual beds needed in order to separate men from women, juveniles from adults, violent inmates from the nonviolent ones and rival gang members.

The existing jail holds 85 beds. As it’s located in the Beaufort County courthouse basement, there is no room for expansion.

The projections have a purpose: to determine how big a facility should be in order to build for the future.

The cost of operating a new jail would potentially be defrayed by housing federal and overflow inmates from other counties, Davis said. Richardson pointed out those 50 inmates, housed at a per-diem cost of $50 each, amounts to $750,000 a year. Additional income would be available from commissary, phone calls and pay-video visitation above and beyond the baseline required, according to Moseley project architect Dan Mace.

“The construction costs of a building is nothing compared to its operational costs,” said Davis. “Once it opens, it never closes.”

Committee members speculated about increased jail populations having little to do with the current economic environment. The increase was attributed to recidivists, changing law, crimes being committed at younger ages and the fact that the responsibility for mental-health patients is falling on county jails across the country.

Until the panel’s next meeting June 26, Davis will be reviewing more historical data, this time to determine how the classifications of inmates could affect the total number of beds.

In the meantime, Davis and Mace suggested the committee tour other jails and seek out the amenities a new Beaufort County Detention Center should have.