UNION COUNTY — Complying with a federal mandate requiring correctional facilities to take steps to prevent and punish the rape and other forms of sexual abuse of inmates could prove costly to the county according to Sheriff David Taylor.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 was passed unanimously by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush on Sept. 4, 2003. Taylor told Union County Council’s Finance Committee Tuesday afternoon that the law was passed in response to growing public awareness of the problem of rape and sexual abuse of inmates within local, state and federal correctional facilities. He said the goal of the act is the detection, prevention, reduction, and prosecution of rape and other forms of sexual abuse within those institutions.
Taylor said the act applies to all prisons, jails, police lock-ups, juvenile facilities, court holding facilities, and community corrections facilities. He said those facilities are required to develop and implement policies and procedures designed to achieve the law’s goal of eliminating rape and other sexual abuse of inmates.
That, however, could prove expensive. Taylor told the committee that counties across South Carolina are in the process of implementing policies and procedures to bring them into compliance with the act. He said that while the cost has varied from county to county, the effort to comply with the law has so far cost those counties anywhere from $18,000 to $300,000.
While compliance may prove expensive, Taylor said non-compliance could prove even more costly. Taylor pointed out that, beginning in August, correctional facilities will be audited by the U.S. Department of Justice to determine if they are in compliance with the act. Taylor said that any state that is found not to be in compliance with the law will be subject to a five percent decrease in Department of Justice grants it might otherwise receive for its correctional institutions.
Taylor told the committee that compliance will involve:
• Determining if existing policies meet the requirements of the act and other existing laws.
• Reviewing available data to determine the prevalence of prisoner sexual abuse and the final outcome of those incidents.
• Examining current reporting and tracking systems and their impact on consistent data collection.
• Reviewing available training for staff and providing specialized training.
• Developing orientation and education programs for inmates.
• Developing protocols to identify, monitor, and counsel at-risk inmates.
• Evaluating current protocols which identify, monitor and counsel predatory inmates.
At the present time, none of these steps have been taken, but Taylor said all of this must be done by August when the federal audits begin.
“I don’t think any of us realized what impact this would have,” Taylor said. “So we did not start implementing this sooner. Nobody except the counties that are already implementing know what kind of burden this will impose on jail operations, but it’s something we have to do.”
Taylor told the committee that while people may think that rape or other forms of sexual abuse do not occur in local correctional facilities like the county jail, they have in fact happened. He said if the county is not in compliance with the law and an inmate is raped or otherwise sexually abused then the county could find itself facing a lawsuit.
Complying with the law will also require the county to address problems at the jail which could hinder compliance such as overcrowding. Taylor said the jail has a capacity for 40 inmates but is currently housing 63 including nine facing murder and attempted murder charges. He said that on average the jail’s inmate population exceeded its capacity by 60-70 percent for the past three years, putting it in violation of state standards.
While the cost of complying with the law is not known at the present time, the experience of other counties suggests it could run into the thousands and even hundreds of thousand of dollars. The potential cost of compliance comes as the county is struggling to close a $1.1 million projected deficit in the proposed 2013-2014 budget.
During his address to the committee, Taylor also pointed out that his budget for the jail totals $970,475 of which $141,790 goes toward operations while the rest are personnel costs. As it works to balance the proposed budget, one of the options council is considering is a 10 percent cut in the sheriff’s office budget, a move Taylor told the committee would require the elimination of five deputies. While no mention has been made of a similar cut in the jail’s budget, Taylor said it would result in the elimination of four jailers or one per shift. Taylor said this would not only impact the county’s ability to comply with the law but could also put it in violation of state staffing requirements.
“This would put us in violation of the minimum standards, which I think we are already in violation of,” Taylor said. “State staffing reviews are mandated in accordance to the minimum standards of the Department of Corrections. If you cut down on your staffing needs then you will have to cut down on the number of inmates housed at the jail.”
Currently, the jail employs 18 jailers, a support officer, a nurse, and an administrative assistant. Taylor said a staffing needs assessment conducted by the Risk Manager of the Association of Counties determined that the minimum staff the jail required would include 22 jailers, an administrator, an assistant administrator, a training officer, a transport/security officer, and an administrative assistant.
Another possible obstacle to compliance with the act is the physical condition of the jail. Taylor pointed out that the design of older facilities like the jail as well as a lack of sufficient electronic surveillance make it difficult to prevent sexual assaults.
This is in addition to the jail’s other physical problems which Taylor said were found by a Facility Risk Assessment in 2011. He said the assessment found that the roof leaked and that there had been no preventive maintenance. The assessment also determined that preventive maintenance should be budgeted at between $1.35 per square foot and $1.50 per square foot. With the jail totaling 13,916 square feet, the assessment concluded that preventive maintenance for the facility should be budgeted at between $18,786 and $204,700 annually.
While the assessment calls for preventive maintenance funding to be included in the jail’s budget, Taylor said that as far as he knows the budget has never included funding for preventive maintenance.
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com.