September 16, 2014

State says it will move violent sex predators from private facility in Columbia

Some violent sex offenders will be moved from an old Columbia mental hospital to a state prison by next year, according to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health. Agency officials say they hope to move about 44 violent sex offenders from the former Croft-Farrow hospital outside of Columbia by the end of the year.

The move came after State Rep. Joe McEachern (D-Columbia) publicly expressed concerns that the current site is too close to nearby neighborhoods. He hosted a contentious meeting Monday night in which several suburban Columbia residents said they did not want the facility anywhere near their homes.

“It’s such a risk,” McEachern told South Carolina Radio Network, “You have a child development center right across the street. A church is right across the street. A recreation center is down the street.”

A Department of Mental Health spokeswoman said 44 inmates were moved to the Columbia Regional Care Center in 2008 after an existing center for “sexually violent predators” at the Broad River Correctional Institution became overcrowded. The agency says an agreement with the state Department of Corrections will expand the space at the Broad River facility by December.

Officials say there are tight precautions in place, and that no violent inmate has ever escaped from the old hospital. But there have been escapes from non-violent residents. McEachern said that, with only two security guards on-site, he believes it’s only a matter of time before a violent offender is able to get out.

A private company, Geo Care Inc., operates the Columbia Regional Care Center. Geo Care purchased a previous contractor that was running the site two years ago. McEachern said he was very concerned to learn the CRCC was run by a private entity, “For-profits are going to make decisions off the bottom line, not off total safety and security.”

While the department plans to relocate the violent predators by January, the agency’s own documents indicate the program’s growth will likely cause Broad River to reach capacity again by 2015. That could leave an opening for inmates to return to the CRCC.