Inmates released from Richland jail may soon get transportation vouchers

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - It's been a topic of debate for a while now.

Some businesses, even homeowners, have big concerns about inmates straight from jail being dropped off at a bus station on Sumter Street in Downtown Columbia.

But county leaders could be close to a solution.

Right now, the Sumter Street Transit Station isn't just a place to catch a ride, it's a place where hundreds of inmates are dropped off.

"The numbers vary month to month, but I think in a typical month there may 400 or so -- a hundred a week -- that are dropped off downtown," said Matt Kennell, president of City Center Partnership. "Some months it could be as many as 600 or 700. It just depends on the season and how many people have been arrested."

When inmates bond out or are released from the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center and don't have rides, the jail buses them downtown.

Kennell, who runs a group tasked with revitalizing Main Street and other parts of downtown, says the drop-off is a problem.

"It does have impacts on the downtown business community to have hundreds of people every month that are dropped off that may not have a place to go, so they just kind of have to wander around until they find a place to go," Kennell said.

County Councilman Seth Rose has heard the same concerns.

"There's concerns about what may happen, or illegal conduct, or if someone relieves themselves in the bushes," Rose said.

So the Richland County jail ad hoc committee is coming up with a solution.

A plan is in the works to give the inmates without rides vouchers for free taxi trips to anywhere within city-limits.

"If they say we want to go to Main Street, then they can go to Main Street, but if you're trying to get to your house at a different location, we certainly don't want to strand that person on Main Street, and that's all we're doing is offering an alternative," Rose said.

The deal isn't final yet.

City Attorney Teresa Knox says inmates might be given $30 vouchers but committee members don't know what the overall cost will be.

But they say the money that's already used to take them to Sumter Street will help offset it.

"Hopefully, the cost will not be a burden on the taxpayers," Kennell said.

Kennell is very optimistic that the plan will go through.

Knox says Columbia City Council wants to contract a number of taxi companies.

Meanwhile, Councilman Rose hopes to strike deals with those taxi companies that will be prudent with taxpayer dollars.

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