South Carolina sheriffs are nervous and confused after three of their
colleagues have been charged with misdemeanors for alleged misuse of
inmate labor, so the South Carolina Sheriffs' Association will hold a
training session to try to clear up confusion.
“Some of the allegations that've been made may just be misinterpretations of the law,” says Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster. “The other ones, such as working on private property or doing private work, there's no misinterpretation of that and nobody condones that. But the other thing that we're concerned about as sheriffs is getting a little bit more definitive answer about what you can and you can't do.”
The most recent sheriff to face charges is Sam Parker in Chesterfield County. He was indicted last week on six misdemeanor charges involving state prison inmates who were working for the county. The indictment says he allowed two inmates to live in a dorm, have TVs and an iPad.
Last August, former Saluda County Sheriff Jason Booth pleaded guilty to misconduct in office. He was sentenced to a $1,000 fine and 1 year in prison, suspended to 5 years probation. He used inmates to work on his private property.
Abbeville County Sheriff Charles Goodwin was charged in January with taking kickbacks and for using inmates to do work on his and his family's personal vehicles.
Jeff Moore, executive director of the South Carolina Sheriffs' Association, says part of the problem is that there are contradictions between rules and laws for state inmates versus county inmates. For example, state inmates who are in the state work-release program compared to state inmates doing work for a county.
“It's against the law to pay somebody to mow the county's grass, but on the other hand it's legal to let some inmates go outside the facility to work at restaurants and actually earn money,” Moore says.
The association has set up a training program for sheriffs on April 3rd, where they'll meet with the Department of Corrections and the U.S. Marshals service, since some federal inmates do county work and the federal rules are also different.