Crime

Why the Horry County sheriff isn’t planning changes following third jail death

Horry County Sheriff addresses inmate deaths

Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson discusses the recent inmate deaths at the J. Reuben Long Detention Center and how his staff undergoes training to handle incoming inmates' conditions.
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Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson discusses the recent inmate deaths at the J. Reuben Long Detention Center and how his staff undergoes training to handle incoming inmates' conditions.

Following the third inmate death in months, Horry County’s sheriff says there are no plans to review procedures at J. Reuben Long related to inmate safety.

Sheriff Phillip E. Thompson said every death is investigated by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to ensure there is no wrongdoing. So far, investigators found no signs of foul play in any of the recent deaths.

There is some solace knowing that none of the recent deaths were the result of jail mistakes or actions, Thompson said.

“It’s a big concern of ours,” Thompson said of jail deaths. “Just because someone is in jail, we have a duty and obligation to provide care.”

On Sunday, a 46-year-old man died in jail in an apparent suicide. That followed a 67-year-old woman who died in early June from natural causes. In March, Christopher Bennett died after, a SLED investigation found, he ate drugs and suffering medical issues.

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J. Reuben Long averages a death or two a year, so three in less than six months is an anomaly, Chief Deputy Tom Fox said. Before serving as chief deputy, Fox oversaw the jail for 16 years.

Fox added the apparent suicide marked the first at the jail in 17 years.

Thompson said when someone is booked into the jail there is a nurse who provides a medical screening. That includes a review of the person’s medical history, medications they take and substance abuse issues.

But, if someone lies during the process — such as if they took drugs before their arrest — there is little care staff can provide.

With opioid usage increasing in the region, Fox and Thompson said more people enter the jail with pre-existing health conditions or experience withdrawal.

Fox estimated that 10 inmates a week are sent to the hospital from J. Reuben Long.

The jail has a nursing staff and an infirmary that Thompson described as “state of the art.” The facility provided $2.3 million worth of medical care last year, Fox said.

Jail staff also complete weeks of training before they enter the facility. While inside, guards routinely have tours where they check on each inmate to make sure everyone is safe.

“It’s extremely important to us that we provide that type of environment,” Thompson said.

If there is a death, staff undergo a debriefing session with counselors, Fox said.

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