Lack of juvenile center costs local counties thousands

Lack of juvenile center costs local counties thousands

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Every year, counties in South Carolina spend tens of thousands of dollars to drive juveniles back and forth to the Department of Juvenile Justice in Columbia and house them.

"It gets expensive but it's a lot cheaper than trying to build and operate a facility," Dorchester County Sheriff L.C. Knight said.

In the entire lower half of South Carolina, only Charleston County has a juvenile detention center.

Other counties, including Berkeley and Dorchester Counties, have to pay to drive and keep them at the Department of Juvenile Justice in Columbia.

"It takes a lot of man hours," Berkeley County Chief Deputy Rick Ollic said. "It takes a lot of wear and tear to put them on the road to go with our vehicles back and forth, and it runs the miles up on our vehicles, but that's what we have at this point."

The counties pay about $110 to drive to Columbia and back, about $100 more for each deputy's salary, and $65 for each day a teenage suspect spends at DJJ, up to 90 days.

"We may arrest him at 2 o'clock this afternoon, at 5 o'clock we may be going to Columbia with him," Sheriff Knight said. "Well the court may want to see him tomorrow afternoon or the next day. Well we got to go right back and get him and bring him back or her. That's the burden."

In the last two years, those costs have added up for the counties and their taxpayers, with Dorchester County spending about $121,000, and Berkeley County spending $174,000, with $120,000 coming from housing.

Dorchester County will be move out of its facility in St. George soon and into a new facility in Summerville. It has looked at possibly converting the St. George center into a juvenile one, but the cost is too high.

"When you figure in the meals, the cooks, the guards, whatever, to operate it, I'm not sure it would pay for itself, so I'm not sure if Dorchester County will eventually do it or not," Knight said.

A DJJ spokeswoman told me it was not interested in running the facility in St. George. She said what the state has now is working for the state and it's up to local governments to come up with a way to handle juveniles.

Both counties estimate the cost of building, or renovating a juvenile jail for the Lowcountry to be in the millions, which is why they've discussed a joint facility but so far it hasn't gotten past conversations.

"It all comes down to one thing and that's funding," Ollic said. "I think we should do everything in our power to try to find a way to partnership, anyway we can, to build that facility. "It also is going to make a huge difference on the tax payer, not to burden them anymore."

Charleston County has an agreement with the counties and helps store juveniles occasionally for both. According to a spokesperson for the sheriff's office, it has room for 46 inmates and has around 30 right now.