Columbia shelter used as drop-off site for some freed state, local inmates

cleblanc@thestate.comNovember 18, 2013 

People released from state prisons and the county jail are being transported to the city’s around-the-clock shelter near the Broad River as part of a pilot program that began earlier this month, officials say.

Forty-six former detainees from the county jail who could not arrange their own transportation have been escorted by jail guards and Columbia police to the shelter since Nov. 8, Warren Harley, an assistant Richland County administrator said Monday.

The number of ex-prisoners freed from state prisons since the temporary program began Nov. 1 was not readily available Monday, said S.C. Corrections Department spokesman Clark Newsom. But ex-inmates no longer will be freed on the first Friday of each month and taken to the Greyhound bus terminal near Five Points as they have for years, Newsom said.

Both changes are part of negotiations with city leaders to ease complaints that people who have been behind bars were being released in downtown – especially at night – if they could not arrange for rides from family or friends.

Prison officials also have agreed to transport ex-inmates to the Five Points terminal at times that more closely coincide with Greyhound routes, which leave at 4:30 a.m. and 9 a.m., Newsom said. It used to be that guards took the ex-prisoners to the terminal at 3:30 a.m.

The state releases an average of 1,000 former prisoners per month, but about two-thirds of them arrange their own travel, Newsom said. They are taken by guards to the Greyhound terminal, where they can buy tickets to their destinations. The Corrections agency is seeking to arrange for additional security by adding a local officer at the Greyhound site.

The drop-off site for Alvin S. Glenn jail detainees has been the metro bus terminal at Sumter and Laurel streets.

City manager Teresa Wilson and county administrator Tony McDonald said the temporary arrangement for the county jail is likely to continue until the city shelter closes in the spring.

During that time, they will work with Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority and city taxi companies to create a voucher system so people released from the jail off Bluff Road can ride a bus or summon a cab if they cannot otherwise get a ride.

Until then, jail inmates who are able to post bond during daylight hours will continue to be taken to the CMRTA terminal in the city center, Harley said.

Those who do not have rides will go in vans from the jail to the shelter, which is behind the city water plant and the children’s marionette theater.

At the shelter, they will have access to a telephone to try to arrange a ride. Those who cannot, have the option of asking to be admitted to the shelter. Neither prisoners nor detainees may be forced to stay at the shelter, officials have said.

The notion of ex-inmates and former jail detainees being near riverfront businesses and the Arsenal Hill neighborhood has so far not created a stink, Wilson said. She met with the neighborhood association before the pilot program began to explain the strategy.

“I have not gotten any pushback from the neighborhood,” Wilson said.

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

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