Originally created 08/19/04

Report on jail mostly upbeat

AIKEN - Aiken County's $15 million detention center is safe and well-managed but understaffed, a federal consultant said Wednesday.

Warren Cook, a technical resource provider with the National Institute of Corrections, a division of the Department of Justice, conducted an operations assessment this week at the jail, which has suffered from alleged mismanagement and mistakes since opening in 2002.

Mr. Cook presented his findings to the Aiken County Council on Tuesday night in a closed-door meeting with the jail administrator and the county sheriff.

County Administrator Clay Killian said the public was restricted from the meeting because it was possible Mr. Cook might recommended changes to county personnel.

Mr. Cook said Wednesday that a final report about the jail would probably be out late next week and would be mostly positive.

"It's being managed very well," he said in reference to Director John Rowley. "It's a very clean and quiet facility."

Council members requested a review of the Doris C. Gravat facility after a series of anonymous employee complaints about jail operations.

Included among them was an incident involving Robert Atkins, 31, who is charged with murder in the August 2000 slaying of Aiken teen Jessica Lynn Carpenter. Mr. Atkins was found with a handcuff key while being held at the jail.

But other than needing minor updates to the jail's policy manual, the biggest problem the jail faces is a lack of staff, many of whom are burned out from working too many hours for too little pay, Mr. Cook said.

"If (Mr. Rowley) could keep those folks and get them some good training, then they'd have a stellar operation," Mr. Cook said. "They need to stop that turnover."

Jail employees told Mr. Cook they're unhappy about having to accrue 400 hours of compensation time before they can get paid overtime, he said.

He acknowledged there had been talk about giving oversight of the detention center to Sheriff Mike Hunt.

The sheriff referred questions on the subject to Mr. Killian, who said he wasn't "in a position to talk about that at this point."

Jail staff are still in a period of transition and if oversight is moved to the sheriff's office, it shouldn't happen for six months to a year, Mr. Cook said.

"I'll work for whoever they tell me to work for," Mr. Rowley said. "My focus is strictly on running a professional correctional operation. I really don't bother with what's going on above me."

Councilman Rick Osbon and other members of the council said they didn't want to comment on the evaluation until the written report was completed.

Staff writer Stephen Gurr contributed to this article.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 113, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.

Aiken County Sheriff Mike Hunt has been mentioned as a possible jail overseer.


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