Folks confined in the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center don’t have many options after release – they can have someone they know pick them up or let authorities take them to downtown Columbia’s bus transfer station. That could change if Richland County Councilman Seth Rose has his way.
Rose and other County Council members met Tuesday to discuss alternate transportation options for folks released from the jail. The idea has been in the works since June 2014 as a joint effort with the city. Under current rules, anyone who can’t get someone to pick them up from the jail has to take a jail van to the COMET’S main transit center at Sumter and Laurel streets.
This creates problems for residents near the transit center and for folks released from jail, according to Elizabeth Marks, president of the nearby Robert Mills Historic Neighborhood Association. Local ministries and shelters provide help for those who have been released, but oftentimes, odd release hours mean people arrive downtown when such services aren’t open, Marks said.
“There are a significant number of drug dealers operating in that area (very early in the morning),” she said. “It’s a recipe for opportunity – for the wrong kind of opportunity.”
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Officials debated allowing those who have been released to choose their drop-off locations and paying local taxicab companies to transport them. But council members expressed concern after finding that taxicab drivers in South Carolina carry the state minimum level of liability insurance – $25,000. This is less than the county’s $1 million liability minimum for other contracts for service. Rose pushed for a trial period.
“We can try this for a year, see how it works, and then reevaluate the data,” Rose said.
The program would only apply to those with no other means of transport. Officials estimate about 200 people a month have no one to pick them up upon release.
Buses traveling the COMET’s ReFlex Route 62 stop at the jail four times a day. That’s good for people visiting detainees. But jail director Ronaldo Myers said detainees can’t use the bus because it doesn’t match up with release times.
The current cost to transport people to the downtown transit station is about $36,742 a year, according to county officials. Using taxis would cost the city an estimated $51,900 a year and would cost the county an estimated $33,600 a year. Rose directed county staff members to confer with city staff, research the liability issue further and report their findings later this month.