Upgrading jail is a priority

Published 11:29 am Tuesday, February 27, 2007

By Staff
Arresting people is one thing. Housing them is another.
That’s just one reason Beaufort County Sheriff Alan Jordan is calling for more than doubling the capacity of the local jail.
The current jail that is in the basement of the Beaufort County Courthouse was built in the early 1970s and can house 85 inmates. Jordan wants funding to expand that to 217 beds and improve both efficiency and safety.
Jordan is aware that it’s an uphill fight. Rockingham County recently approved plans for a 230-bed jail with a price tag of $25 million. While the county funding wish list is long, a jail needs to be on that list.
Jordan’s job is not only to watch out for the safety of residents in Beaufort County. He is responsible for the safety of the men and women who work for him and the general public that visit the jail as well as the safety of prisoners. Jailers need to be safe in carrying out their duties.
The last expansion in Beaufort County was in the late 1980s, which was mandated by the court system because of overcrowding, Jordan said. It took the original facility from 35 beds to 85.
Detention officers “have to physically walk amongst the inmates to see what’s going on.” The detention center does have video surveillance, but Jordan said inmates can be “amazingly resourceful.”
In the Beaufort County center, officers can be assaulted because “they are forced to walk between two opposing blocks of felons who can assault them from either side.” The inmates don’t assault officers with their hands, but by “throwing bodily fluids at them,” he said.
Jordan said 90 percent of the people held at the detention center are held there before a trial. The center also holds offenders sentenced to 60 days or less. Those with a longer sentence are held in a state facility.
Jordan said the main problem with the existing detention center is its linear design, which doesn’t allow for “direct supervision.”
The facility Jordan most liked was in Brunswick County in the southern part of the state. He said the officer’s control room was behind mirrored glass, in the center of the facility. The inmates couldn’t see into the room, but the officers had a complete view of them, he said. More cells would allow officers to separate dangerous offenders from nonviolent ones, Jordan said.
The local facility also doesn’t have adequate room for visitors. Jordan said the attorney room is also the trash-receptacle room. “We have to pull the trash out when attorneys visit,” he said.
Jordan said one option was to build onto the existing building or in close proximity to it, which would eliminate the need for transports. He said he would like to see the detention center, emergency communications and the sheriff’s office in one building, which would help with personnel costs.
With a bigger facility, Jordan said “there’s a possibility of offsetting cost.” He said if the jail is not at full capacity, federal inmates could be housed there for profit.
The problems with the detention center must be addressed, Jordan said. “The county has no real safety without a jail,” he said.