Jail issue resurfaces in 2011

Published 12:31 am Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Space is at a premium in the Beaufort County Detention Center. Behind the metal door is the food preparation area. To the right are windows for visitation. The door (on the left) with the window conceals the attorney-client meeting room. On the other side of the bars are the fingerprinting machine and the jail’s command center. (WDN File Photo/Vail Stewart Rumley)

The recommendation by the Beaufort County grand jury was striking: “It is quite evident that Beaufort County is in dire need of a new jail facility. This facility is needed for the staff and their safety, the safety of the inmates, as well as the safety of the citizens of Beaufort County. We implore the County Commissioners to appropriate the funds necessary to construct a new jail facility immediately and without delay.”

The resurfacing of the jail issue came in as the No. 8 news story in the Washington Daily News’ coverage area in 2011.

It’s been a problem for many years: the cyclical overcrowding and the lack of space for essentially all the necessary functions required to operate a jail: attorney-client conferences, laundry facilities, food preparation and service, office space, storage space, space for a detention officer to sit down and have a break.

According to Beaufort County Detention Center officials, the needs of the jail have outgrown the space allotted to the jail in the past three decades, leading to a facility rife with potential danger to detention officers, inmates, attorneys and anyone else who happens to be on premises.

The threat of harm is what keeps Sheriff Alan Jordan pushing the subject into direct sight, because all individuals involved in the jail fall directly under sheriff’s office’s purview. For Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr., the threat of the county facing a lawsuit as a result of said harm, as well as the potential for federal intervention, has made the jail issue a top priority.

Though County Manager Randell Woodruff named a committee to address the subject in mid-November, there are no plans for the committee to meet before the end of the year. Woodruff proposed the committee, consisting of Sermons, Jordan, county Commissioners Al Klemm, Hood Richardson and Jerry Langley, District Court Judge Michael Paul, District Attorney Seth Edwards and Beaufort County Detention Center administrator Capt. Catrena Ross, meet for the first time in January 2012.

Since a two-part series about the jail issue was published by the Daily News last month, Sermons said, the jail issue has made a collective impact in the community.

“I’ve seen more talk, more concern that we may get sued, someone may get hurt or a death may occur,” he said.

In the past month, Jordan and Sermons spoke at the Beaufort County Republican Club’s December meeting: Jordan explaining to club members the dangers of working in and being incarcerated in the facility; Sermons offering support for the sheriff’s office.

“Every day, I talk to the people who’ll listen to me, and sometimes that includes the elected officials,” said Jordan, in a phone interview Thursday.

Sermons is hoping that after the new year, the commissioners will be ready to move forward, charting a course to decide where a new jail will be located, what it’s going to look like and how the county will pay for it. Regardless of where the committee is after its first meeting, Sermons has vowed “to continue to speak out about it — because it’s important.”

Reader’s No. 8 Choice:

Wind farm in Beaufort County