County looking to build new jail

Published 11:42 pm Saturday, September 20, 2008

By Staff
Lockup is old, overcrowded, officials say
Staff Writer
The Beaufort County Detention Center just doesn’t have what it takes anymore, local officials say, and few people want to work there.
So they want to build a new local lockup with more beds and a better design.
And while the county works on a new jail, the county wants to add more jailers.
As things stand now, it’s “just a matter of time” before someone gets hurt in the jail, said Chief Deputy Harry Meredith of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.
The jail’s staff has been dipping below required levels due to turnover, officials said.
To help alleviate that problem, the commissioners decided Tuesday to allow the sheriff to recruit up to three extra jailers.
The county has been struggling for months to meet staffing needs at the jail, and already increased the starting salary. It currently sits at just more than $30,000 per year plus overtime, Meredith said.
Right now the jail has nine staffers, three of whom have less than 14 days of experience, Meredith said.
Hiring some extra staff would give the jail more flexibility, he said.
But the goal is to eventually have plenty of staff and plenty of beds.
Right now the jail houses an average of about 100 inmates, but was designed for a maximum of 85, Meredith said.
And female detainees can’t be kept there, he said, because the jail doesn’t have enough female staff. So they’re shipped off to Pamlico County, Meredith said.
That costs Beaufort County $50 per inmate per day, he said. The county also must pay for guards to transport the inmates, fuel, and vehicle upkeep, he said.
The jail, which was built in the 1970s and updated in the 1980s, doesn’t make it easy for deputies to safely supervise inmates, Meredith said.
The county is in the process of entering a contract with Construction Controls Inc. for help in determining what the county needs in a new jail, Spruill said.
The company is expected to meet with the sheriff’s office, the commissioners and other stakeholders to help develop a consensus on exactly how big the jail should be.
Meredith said he thinks the number of beds required will likely be more than 200, but he wants to see a professional study used to calculate the actual number.
Once the county decides how big the jail should be, it will then have to decide where to build it.
But what isn’t controversial is that the county needs to build a jail somewhere, Spruill said.
But that will require at least three years, said Spruill. After the mediator helps the county determine its needs, the jail will still need to be sited, designed and built, he said.
Until that happens, staffing levels aren’t likely to fix themselves permanently, Meredith said.
And in the meantime, the old jail is all the county has.