A legislative panel has approved a request by South Carolina’s mental health agency to borrow $45 million as the state builds a new facility to house more than 180 individuals labeled “sexually violent predators.”
Members of the Joint Bond Review Committee on Tuesday signed off on a Department of Mental Health (DMH) proposal to issue bonds that would pay for the proposed nearly 100,000 square-foot Columbia facility.
The future unit would replace temporary housing the agency currently uses for its patients in the Sexually Violent Predator Program. The plan must still be approved by the State Fiscal Accountability Authority at its meeting next week.
South Carolina began housing inmates in the SVP program in 1999, housing individuals who have served their sentence for sexual crimes, but were deemed too dangerous to release back into the general public. Nearly 300 inmates have gone through the program since it began in 1999. Of those, roughly 100 have either been rehabilitated or died in custody.
DMH officials say the current housing they use was always meant to be temporary and is running out of space as the population steadily expands. The agency said it expects the units will reach capacity by early next year. Legislators and the agency studied the issue before deciding to have a private contractor operate the facility once it opens. A proviso in last year’s budget authorized the agency to request bids.
“The projection is that these folks are going to continue to increase over the years,” State Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, said. “So what we’re trying to do is find a cheaper mechanism for us to house them other than the state doing it itself.”
The future site will be built at the former state Stevenson Correctional Institution prison, which Department of Corrections officials closed in 2012. Documents released Tuesday show the new facility would have 268 beds, but the agency said it could house up to 500 patients, if needed. It will also house an infirmary and therapy spaces. A second building would be for administrative offices.
DMH estimates the actual facility will cost $41 million, but is borrowing an additional $4.2 million to cover future lease payments on the site. The contractor that would operate on the site is not named in the documents.