Richland County hires former federal prosecutors to investigate Alvin S. Glenn amid DOJ probe
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Richland County officials have hired a pair of federal prosecutors to conduct an independent review of conditions at the troubled Alvin G. Glenn Detention Center in the midst of a federal probe into the facility.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Nov. 2 it would be conducting a civil rights investigation into two South Carolina jails: Charleston’s Al Cannon Detention Center and Alvin S. Glenn in Columbia.
The DOJ will look into whether the county is providing adequate living conditions at the jail and if inmates are protected from violence.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department has responded to the facility dozens of times in 2023 alone, for stabbings, attacks, and most recently, a riot over the weekend.
Alexandra Benevento, an attorney for the family of Lason Butler, who died at the jail in 2022 due to dehydration, said there needs to be a sense of urgency to fix the jail’s problems.
“This is atrocious, it’s unfathomable,” she said. “It’s all of the adjectives you can come up with. I see and hear things that people would not believe are going on in a first world country.”
Benevento, who also represents the families of other inmates who have allegedly been harmed at the detention center, said the situation there is “past the point of crisis.”
“What we need is comprehensive reform,” she said. “We probably need to scrap the whole thing and start over because at this point, any remedial measures that are supposedly being taken, the evidence shows that this place gets more and more violent by the day.”
Two separate law firms, Wyche Law Firm and Maynard Nexsen, were retained by the county on Nov. 14 to conduct an internal investigation into the jail.
Richland County officials say this latest step is part of an effort to be transparent and help provide federal investigators with “timely and accurate information to complete their inquiry, as the county has nothing to hide,” a letter from the office of county attorney Patrick Wright reads.
Wright said the county has demonstrated its commitment to improve conditions there well before the federal probe was announced, citing $30 million in investments to address facility improvements, staffing and retention.
“The public should be aware that Richland County takes its responsibilities seriously and will continue to take all necessary and appropriate steps to improve the conditions at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center and all other county facilities,” the letter from Wright said.
Officials are in the process of installing a new locking system, and have already instituted pay increases for corrections officers, kitchen upgrades and an upgraded jail management system.
Wright’s letter stated that Richland County Council plans to allocate millions of additional dollars toward the jail in 2024 for further improvement initiatives.
Richland County Council Chairman Overture Walker has said that he welcomes the investigation into the jail, and any potential suggestions to improve safety there.
The detention center is operated and managed by County Administrator Leonardo Brown, with oversight from county council.
Daily operations are handled by Director Crayman Harvey.
This structure is unique in South Carolina, as the local sheriff’s department operates jails in 32 of the state’s 46 counties, according to data from the South Carolina Association of Counties.
12 jails are run by individual counties, and two are jointly run by two counties.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said in an interview Thursday that he has faith in the leadership of Alvin S. Glenn.
“Issues at the detention center didn’t happen overnight, that happened over a period of years, so it’s not going to be fixed overnight either,” he said.
Some lawmakers and attorneys say the sheriff’s department should play a bigger role at the detention center, and possibly take over operations entirely.
“As I’ve always said, in a perfect world, the detention would belong to the elected sheriff of Richland County, just as it is in most all other counties across this state,” Rep. Seth Rose, D-Richland, said. “But I am encouraged that the county is investing millions of dollars and has plans in place to address what is occurring presently, which should never happen.”
Rose is also a former prosecutor and served on Richland County Council.
Lott said me his department overseeing the jail is something that is not feasible at this point.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on,” he said. “You need to give the Department of Justice now time to come in, look at it, make their recommendations and then the detention center and the county’s doing a lot of things to improve. Give them that opportunity. Let them do their job and improve the detention center.”
Responding to comments from lawmakers about jail leadership, Walker sent WIS a statement, which reads, “Out of deference to the Legislative Delegation, neither I, nor any of my colleagues on County Council have ever publicly commented or offered up critiques on State issues pertinent to our constituents such as judicial reform, bail reform, and the debacle around the Richland County Master-in-Equity’s reappointment. I would ask for the same deference in return as County Council, working in tandem with Administration, continues to proactively address issues at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center. However, we welcome any genuine solicitude around the detention center from legislators and any other elected officials expressed in the form of a direct call to the County with an offer of support or assistance.”
Walker shared following the announcement of the DOJ investigation that the problems plaguing the jail are being faced at detention centers around the country, with those challenges ranging from contraband to staffing shortages.
According to data shared by county officials earlier this month, the jail had 121 detention officers overseeing 971 detainees.
To be fully staffed, the jail would have 250 detention officers.
Benevento believes staffing issues are just a small piece of the problem, and is open to all ideas on how to improve conditions at Alvin S. Glenn.
“Whatever it takes, but it needs to be done right now, whether that’s Richland County deputies taking over, whether that’s additional security, or whether that’s other reforms suggested by the DOJ, the answer is it doesn’t matter what it looks like,” she said. “The particulars don’t matter. What matters is something that has to be done now, something has to be done yesterday because every day that goes by, we hear about another individual who’s been assaulted, we hear about another individual who’s been attacked.”
Rose suggested that RCSD could assign some of its deputies to the jail amid staffing shortages.
Lott said that deputies are not certified to assist in that capacity.
“We have to protect our community,” he said. “They’re correctional officers, we’re law enforcement officers. There’s a difference. There’s difference in training, there’s a difference in their certification. So a deputy sheriff just can’t go and work a detention center because they’re not a certified correctional officer. You’re talking about apples and oranges there.”
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