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South Carolina Prisoner Does Easy Time

South Carolina state prisoner Kevin Bell, 42, breezed through the last six years of his sentence with the help of local law enforcement officials. In 1996, Bell began serving a 13-year prison term for cocaine trafficking. Six years later he was sent to the Cherokee County Detention Center, at the request of county officials, to serve the remainder of his sentence.

The transfer of prisoners from state prisons to county facilities is common in South Carolina, as it relieves the burden on the prison system and places prisoners closer to their families. What is uncommon is the amount of privileges that Bell received once he arrived at the county jail, where he worked as a trustee.

Bell was able to basically leave the detention center at will. At one point he left the jail long enough to have sex and father a daughter. The two celebrated her third birthday at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in 2006, along with the guard who drove him there and the guard’s wife and two children.

Occasionally Bell would enjoy dinner at his parents’ home in the next county. He did his own shopping at Wal-Mart, and at times was even allowed to go unescorted to the bank. In fairness, Bell had legitimate reasons to go to the bank. His two businesses – washing cars for the county and selling goods for deputies and jailers on eBay – netted him too much money to keep in his jail commissary account. At one point he had earned over $20,000.

Bell also needed some freedom so he could pay his cell phone bill and prepare for his upcoming wedding to an unidentified jail employee, whom he was having sex with. He planned to marry her the day after his release. The guest list for the couple’s wedding included deputies, police officers and other law enforcement officials.

Several people admitted they were aware that Bell and his jailer fiancé were having sex. “Everyone at the jail knew of Kevin’s relationship and other activities. It was overlooked,” said jail employee Robin Murphy.

A subsequent report issued by the South Carolina Dept. of Corrections (DOC) verified the unprecedented privileges that Bell received at the jail. Bell and two other state prisoners were removed from the Cherokee County Detention Center during the DOC investigation; he later completed his sentence at a state facility.

Since his release, Bell has been working at a body shop owned by Gaffney County councilman Tim Spencer. Spencer said Bell was a model employee and that it was the lenient treatment in jail that aided with his successful rehabilitation.

County residents, however, were not pleased to learn about the liberties that Bell was afforded while serving time. “I pay my taxes to keep them behind bars, and that’s where they should stay,” said Will Cote, a resident of Blacksburg.

Bell broke off his wedding with the jail employee he had intended to marry, and she was fired for having an illegal relationship with a prisoner. “We’ve made changes and are in the process of doing things,” said Cherokee County Sheriff Bill Blanton. The DOC has since canceled its agreement to house state prisoners at the county’s jail.

Sources: Associated Press, Gaffney Ledger

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