Changes are being made at the Orangeburg County Detention Center following the deaths of six inmates and two state inspections, County Administrator Harold Young says.
The deaths of six inmates in a little more than a year’s time — half of which were suicides, is ‘not typical,” Young said. ‘If one person dies, that’s too many.”
It’s standard procedure for the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate the deaths of inmates at the state’s jails. SLED has ‘open and ongoing” investigations into two of the six deaths at the Orangeburg County jail. The investigations into the other four deaths have been closed, SLED spokesperson Thom Berry said.
The two open cases include the deaths of Nathaniel Hearn, 37, who was found hanging in his cell on Nov. 23, 2012, and Tremell L. Collins-Smith, 31, who was found hanging in his cell by a bed sheet almost exactly one year later, on Nov. 25, 2013. Collins-Smith was pronounced dead at the Regional Medical Center.
The death of Shannon Lynn Eason, 34, on March 13, 2013, was determined to be suicide. The Orangeburg County Coroner’s Office found that she hanged herself with her bedsheet.
Berry said SLED’s probe into her death is ‘being closed out as the Solicitor’s Office determined that there was no prosecutable offense.”
Other jail deaths during the 13-month span were as follows:
Money Lee Frazier, 58, was found unresponsive and lying face down on a cot in his cell on Oct. 31, 2012.
James Ray Parker, 38, was found dead in his cell on Feb. 16, 2013. The cause of death was determined to be cardiac-related.
Thurston Massey, 34, died at the jail as a result of internal bleeding on Oct. 21, 2013.
The most recent change at the OCDC was approved at the Dec. 23 meeting of Orangeburg County Council. OCDC inmates will be seen by a new health service provider: Southern Health Partners of Nashville, Tenn.
With Southern Health Partners coming on board, inmates will have access to a nurse 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Under the current contract with TransformHealthRx of Statesboro, Ga., nurses are only staffed at the jail 16 hours each day.
Also with Southern Health Partners, inmates will have additional access to mental health services.
Councilman Willie B. Owens said he thinks the contract with Southern Health Partners ‘will be an excellent move to help correct some of the problems we’ve been having at the center.”
But ‘correcting some of the problems” at the OCDC goes beyond improving inmate health services.
During the past six to 12 months, the county has spent approximately $170,000 to bring the 37-year-old detention center into compliance with state standards and to provide necessary training to jail staff and employees, Young said.
The most recent state Department of Corrections inspection on July 24, listed some 20 standards the jail didn’t meet. The inspection in July and one conducted in January 2013 did not specifically address the inmate deaths.
The list of areas where the jail did not meet ‘minimum standards,” as required by the state, includes in part:
- Upgrades to special purpose cell.
- Having sufficient personnel to provide 24-hour supervision and processing of inmates and coverage of all identified security posts as well as essential support functions.
- Pre-service and in-service training for jail employees to address several topics, including inmate supervision and suicide prevention.
- Two-way intercom systems for emergency communications.
- Plans for inmate discipline.
- Improving indoor air quality.
- Identifying and labeling buttons and switches in the control center.
- Addressing facility maintenance issues, such as: replacing missing or soiled ceiling tiles, eliminating roof leaks, closing gaps in open circuit breakers, properly securing holes in fire walls, regular cleaning of shower areas for the removal of mold and mildew, replacing/repairing the HVAC system and regulating water pressure in all cells.
- Ensuring inmates have opportunities to participate in the proper amount of permissible exercise time.
- Young said numerous steps have been taken to bring the jail into compliance with state requirements.
He outlined several of the improvements made at the jail:
- Retrofitting the ‘isolation cell” to a ‘suicide cell,” complete with padded walls. Prior to the installation of padded walls, the cell had of concrete walls.
- Equipping detention center staff with an upgraded, two-way radio system.
- Installation of security cameras, which allows staff and officers to have greater visibility of inmates and security posts.
- Access to the administrative area has been secured with bullet-proof glass and self-locking doors. The entrance into the administrative wing requires that a staff member manually signal for the door to ‘unlock” before each visitor enters.
- Labels have been placed on buttons and switches in the control center.
- One of the air conditioning units was replaced, improving air quality and ventilation for inmates.
With detention center Director Vernetia Dozier at the helm, employee training has increased, Young said. Dozier was appointed interim director in July, and has since been named the new director.
Detention officers are equipped with stun guns for use in the event inmates are in a combative situation. Young said that fights at the jail are rare.
While the improvements are in progress, Young said he’s encouraged by the direction it is heading.
In July 2012, Orangeburg County became the sole owner and operator of the Orangeburg County Detention Center and assumed responsibilities for funding and managing it. Before that, the county owned and operated the jail in partnership with Calhoun County.
Young said the county is saving money overall by being the sole owner and operator of the jail. But he acknowledges that because to the age of the detention center, there will always be some ‘non-compliant” issues that inspectors will discover.
During an upcoming retreat, Young and county council members plan to discuss capital improvements. Constructing a new detention center may be among the topics to be discussed, he said.