Editorial: Richland must address concerns about jail

03/03/2013 12:00 AM

11/21/2013 7:52 PM

THE ALLEGED assault of an inmate by a guard at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center is not only reprehensible, but it once again raises questions about the safety and management of the jail.

Richland County’s detention center has battled for much of the past 15 years to keep inmates safe, healthy — and alive. Over that time, the jail has endured multiple periods during which inmates were assaulted or died and questions were raised about jail management.

News that a jail guard has been charged with stomping an inmate, coming on top of a string of inmate deaths since 2009, raises new concerns. Guard Robin Smith is charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature in connection with the Feb. 11 assault of a 52-year-old who had been booked on a trespass charge. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said the inmate had refused to comply with jail employees’ instructions. Deputies allege the guard repeatedly kicked the inmate in the head and side, then put his boot on the inmate’s head and neck while pulling his arm. The inmate was reported to be in critical but stable condition this past week.

As awful as those details are, the situation is actually much worse. Deputies only learned of the assault 10 days after the fact, and that was not from jail officials but through a report filed by staff at Palmetto Health Richland hospital.

Not only is the alleged assault despicable, but jail officials’ failure to report it is equally unacceptable. The guard has been arrested and charged and faces prosecution. But this matter must not end there. Who knew about this attack and failed to report it? Unless there are very good reasons for this oversight (or cover-up) — and there aren’t any — heads should roll.

Since fall 2009, at least five inmates have died in the county jail, according to news reports. What gives?

This isn’t the first troubling stretch of this kind. From 2000 to 2006, seven inmates died under questionable circumstances. One mentally ill inmate died of complications from hypothermia and two others hanged themselves; another, not known to have a history of mental illness, also hanged himself. Three families sued Prison Health Services, which provided medical services at the jail. The county fired that company and hired Tennessee-based Correct Care Solutions.

There’s more history: In the fall of 1997, a state investigation led to charges against three guards for sexual misconduct. In July of 1999, an internal report produced by a corrections expert outlined management, security, medical and safety problems, spawning lawsuits by former inmates.

Unfortunate accidents, even deaths, occur at the best-run jails. But once an inmate ends up in jail, the county is obligated to ensure his safety. Nothing endangers a safe, free and civil society more than when law officers or jailers abuse those they are empowered to detain in the name of our protection.

Richland officials must thoroughly review the assault and other problems at the jail and give a clear public accounting of what happened — and what will be done to bring correction and improvement.

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