Detainees released from the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center will soon have more travel options, after a Richland County Council committee gave the OK to a four-month trial program.
During weekdays, a COMET bus stops at the jail four times a day. Once the trial program takes effect, some of the folks released from jail will get a day pass to ride the bus to wherever they want to go. Weekdays, the COMET makes four stops at the jail.
“This is amazing,” Richland County Councilman Seth Rose said Wednesday. “After all the time we’ve invested in trying to see what we could do to alleviate the concerns and save taxpayer money, we have a plan in place.”
The program will function as a study, gathering data to see if bus passes could provide a long-term solution for how to transport detainees and how to keep them all from being dropped off at downtown Columbia’s bus transfer station.
Under current rules, anyone who cannot get a friend or family member to pick them up from jail is driven to the Sumter Street Transit Center in downtown Columbia. Some downtown residents have raised concerns about detainees loitering after their release – particularly when released early in the morning, before shelters and other agencies are open. Others say the clustering of detainees at the station attracts drug dealers and criminal mischief.
Only detainees who cannot get a ride from friends or family will be eligible for a bus pass – the friends and family option is still the preferred choice. About 54 people a week are released at the downtown bus station now, official said.
The county will purchase day passes in bulk from the COMET for the trial period, which officials said will cost less than $5,000. But when the cost of labor for jail staffers – who can now spend time on other duties rather than transporting detainees – is factored in, Rose said the county will save money with the program.
“We have people that are making full-time salaries that are facilitating this,” Rose said of the employees who transport detainees. “That’s not going to be a problem any more.”
Everyone who meets the requirements for the program will get a bus pass, regardless of whether they were were confined by city or county law enforcement.
Because the COMET does not visit the jail on weekends, jail staffers will shuttle detainees downtown – but also will give them a bus pass, so those without funds to purchase a ticket can get on the bus rather than loitering downtown.
After the four-month trial is up, committee members will report their findings to Richland County Council, which will have to vote on whether to approve a permanent transport plan.