Greenville attorney Steve Henry realized in 2002 that some of the Greenville County Detention Center’s overcrowding problem was caused by defendants charged with minor crimes staying in jail too long.
Some detainees spent as long as six months in jail waiting adjudication of charges that carried maximum sentences of 30 days.
Henry and Law In Action, the nonprofit organization he founded, started the Jail Project, a pilot program where volunteers and then paid investigators made daily jail visits and worked to try to gain the early and safe release on bond of those charged with minor crimes. For the past three years Law in Action has advocated for indigent detainees’ right to counsel.
Henry said the early releases saved Greenville County taxpayers more than a million dollars over the past five years because they didn’t have to pay for more than 22,000 days the indigent detainees otherwise would have spent in jail.
Henry closed down the Jail Project on June 30, saying a statewide order issued by South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal in October 2010 requiring the timely release of jailed defendants charged with 30-day offenses and a recent Greenville County order calling for all indigent magistrate and city court detainees to assigned free lawyers accomplishes what the pilot program set out to do.
“I think we’ve done all we can do,” Henry said. “I think we have a pretty good system in Greenville County.”
Greenville County has established a bond court in the detention center and bonds are reviewed daily in the Greenville City Municipal Court, he said.
The number of jail days saved and housing cost savings decreased from 2008 to 2011 because more personal recognizance bonds are being issued in Bond Court.
Henry said Law In Action also concentrated on getting defendants out in five, 10 or 15 days.
Henry said the Jail Project did not try to get an early release on detainees who faced more serious charges in General Sessions Court and carefully reviewed domestic violence and assault cases before working for early release on those detainees.
While Greenville City Court has a system to review bonds daily, Henry said he’d like to see Greenville County magistrates adopt a similar system.
Henry said he plans to unofficially monitor the situation now that the Jail Project has ended.