County moves ahead with outsourcing lab tests

Published 12:08 am Monday, November 14, 2016


A core group of county officials is looking into outsourcing lab tests for criminal cases in an effort to keep the jail population down.

Commissioner Hood Richardson, Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Charlie Rose, Second Judicial District Attorney Seth Edwards and County Manager Brian Alligood recently met to discuss the possibility of using private labs to process criminal evidence to speed up the court process. An ongoing backlog of evidence at the State Bureau of Investigations lab can prevent evidence from being processed in a timely fashion, according to officials.

The issue is being pushed byRichardson, who said Monday night at the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners meeting that there are two reasons he’s focusing on the issue: to get people out of the jail who are simply there awaiting trial and to help law enforcement and the public. Richardson said Beaufort County taxpayers often shoulder the cost of housing inmates when it should be paid by the state: when inmates spend so much time awaiting trial in the county jail, by the time they’re sentenced to the Department of Corrections, a substantial amount of that sentence has already been served in the local facility at county cost.

“Justice should be swift and sure,” Richardson said.

Rose said outsourcing forensic testing to private labs could be used for the more serious cases, such as violent crimes or drug trafficking. He said there are anywhere between three or four to 12 inmates who fall into this category in the jail at any given time.

Rose said using private labs to process evidence would be more expensive, but Richardson said the higher cost would be offset by having less inmates in the jail, as well as reducing expenses associated with housing an inmate in another facility, or “safekeeping.”

Commissioner Ron Buzzeo asked if outsourcing evidence would speed up defense attorneys’ tactic in drawing out a case, while Commissioner Ed Booth questioned how the decision would be made to send evidence to the state lab or to a private lab, if the private lab is an option.

County Manager Brian Alligood said Edwards is looking into that — what other counties are doing across the state and what policies are in place to determine that decision.

Since the option to outsource could potentially be used unfairly, a policy is necessary, Richardson said.

“The DA is coming up with a policy that cannot be challenged in court,” Richardson said.

The subject of Beaufort County Detention Center’s overcrowding has been a contentious issue for many years, and several years ago prompted commissioners to start the process to build a new jail. It was an unpopular idea for many and the plan was abandoned after the 2014 election when the makeup of the board changed and voted the project down.