COLUMBIA, S.C. — Richland County officials are laying out their plan to improve conditions over at the county jail.
For over a year, News 19 has reported on some of the problems, including inmates deaths, security issues and sanitation concerns.
The South Carolina Department of Corrections requested a strategic plan from the county to address the concerns that were raised.
Richland County has now come back with a detailed document that the county administrator says will improve the culture at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center so employees want to work here, Richland County residents can feel safe and inmates like Deven Givens are comfortable.
"Everybody makes mistakes, but everybody deserves a second chance, so you shouldn’t be going in there and be treated like an animal," Givens shares.
Givens is now living in Myrtle Beach, but for three months, he was staying at Alvin S. Glenn. Before he got out on bond, Givens says conditions at the jail were concerning.
"I hope there will be some major changes because I know a couple people who I went to school with and I hang out with that lost their life in there," Givens says.
In addition to inmate violence, Givens says he has had issues with the food and the hygiene — all areas Richland County Administrator Leonardo Brown says are being addressed.
"We want an "A" across the board. We’re aware that we’re not an "A" across the board everywhere, but the plan is to get an "A", if you will," Brown explained during a news conference on Wednesday. "And how we do that is through this strategic focus, which is reflected in the details of that plan."
The county has now submitted a 180-page strategic plan.
It says recruiting and retaining employees are a top priority.
"This particular environment is not one where people are excited about working in and that’s why you find this to be an issue across multiple counties…throughout the state of South Carolina as well as here in Richland County," Brown explained.
"Every [correctional officer] that I see is come and go, come and go," Givens remembers. "Either they get fired, or they don’t want to work. There’s new CO’s popping up just like that."
Brown says the county has been increasing salary to a minimum of $40,000 for entry level positions, a referral bonus and maintaining overtime pay, as well as conducting a "compensation study" to determine how best to pay people like Martha Sanders, who does maintenance for the center.
"They’re hiring a lot of people, they’re trying to get people in here so they can provide for the inmates and stuff like that from my point of view working here," Sanders shares.
"To get good quality people, you have to get good quality pay," detention center employee Okynease Jones adds. "To get good quality people, you have to get them the proper training, you got to have the proper tools to train them right and you’ve got to come up with the proper pay."
The county also plans to hire a detention center director in the next 60 days, and says it has over 20 applicants.
The jail has also issued a purchase order to install new locks for all the cells, which should be installed by May 2024.
"You should also feel as a local citizen of Richland County encouraged that there are other organizations in South Carolina that already have this mechanism and it’s proven to be successful," Brown says about the new locks.
The county is also adding new toilets in each cell, has renovated the kitchen and has had the food audited by the Department of Health and Environmental Control, all in an attempt to address concerns.
"They’re not gonna try, they’re gonna do it," Jones believes.
Jones works in laundry at the jail, and says she thinks this plan will be effective.
"I’m from Richland County, I live in Columbia, I’ve always been here, and I have that much confidence in them," Jones elaborates. "They don’t have a problem locking them up, they shouldn’t have a problem doing the things that they need done for them while they’re back here."
Brown says now that the strategic plan has been submitted, the next step is for the Department of Corrections to review the plan and provide feedback.
"When we talk about steps that the county has to take and you know how fast can we get things done, sometimes it’s not about the county is moving too slow," Brown shared. "Sometimes it’s about there’s a process that we have to adhere to that requires other individuals to review information before we can actually implement changes."
For people like Quinten Blanding, who was visiting his friend for the first time at the detention center, knowing the county has a plan in place is a step in the right direction.
"Knowing that they’re doing something to improve it is actually a good thing because everybody makes mistakes in life and that’s one thing you’re gonna go through but knowing that you’re actually doing something to make them feel as comfortable behind bars is a good thing for anybody and everybody," Blanding shares.