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An increase in inmates has officials considering night court

The J.Reuben Long Detention Center where inmates accused of crimes are housed and guarded by Horry County Sheriff's deputies.
The J.Reuben Long Detention Center where inmates accused of crimes are housed and guarded by Horry County Sheriff's deputies. jlee@thesunnews.com

A steady increase in the inmate population at J. Reuben Long Detention Center has county officials considering whether to initiate a new night court system to more quickly move non-violent criminals through the bonding system.

Sheriff Phillip Thompson reported Tuesday that an all-time high of 888 inmates were in the jail during Memorial Day weekend.

The jail has the capacity to hold 1,000, but lacks the manpower required when population numbers increase, Thompson said.

“This year, the numbers are going considerably up,” Thompson told the Horry County Council’s Public Safety Committee.

Typically, the jail population is around 650 inmates, he said.

In addition to increased manpower costs and overtime, Thompson said it also costs the jail more money for health care, poses a safety risk and affects morale.

As a solution, the county council is looking at the division of labor among magistrates in the county to see if the workload can be adjusted to help out at the jail.

Magistrates in Mt. Olive, Loris and Aynor are handling only one or two cases on some days, said Mark Lazarus, Horry County Council chairman.

The case could be made to operate those courts two days a week and shift resources to the county jail on the other days, Lazarus said.

“We are stopping at a certain hour, but crime doesn’t stop at five o’clock,” Lazarus said. “We’ve arrested a lot of people at night that could be bonded out that night instead of spending a day in jail.”

Officials say they are not talking about inmates who are locked up for serious crimes, but non-violent ones picked up for such crimes as disorderly conduct or simple possession.

“We’re talking about people who just need bond, we’re not talking about people who need to be in jail. I don’t want people to misconstrue that we are advocating just letting people out of jail, because we’re not,” Lazarus said.

“We need to see how we can shrink the population by keeping the ones that need to be in there, and the ones that don’t need to be in there, out,” Lazarus said.

Audrey Hudson: 843-444-1765, @AudreyHudson

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