Inmates evacuated, jail closed

Published 8:47 pm Monday, June 10, 2013

 A second power outage within three days has put the Beaufort County Detention Center in the dark until future notice.

At approximately 9:40 p.m. Saturday, the Beaufort County Courthouse and its basement jail lost power because of a surge in the City of Washington’s electrical system, according to a press release from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office. Though a backup generator kicked in, 15 minutes later a breaker tripped and the jail was plunged into darkness again, this time accompanied by smoke, said the release.

“It just emphasizes that we’re in a bad situation with that jail,” said Beaufort County Sheriff Alan Jordan. “Once again, this issue is just part of a bigger picture with other longstanding problems: the space, the poor design, the poor ventilation, the poor security as far as visually.”

The latest power outage came on the heels of the last one, when city and county personnel struggled to evacuate inmates, and light the jail, during a Tropical Storm Andrea downpour. In that case, electricity was restored and inmates were quickly returned to the facility.

This time, Jordan is taking no risks.

“When they can give us the assurance that everything has been done to try to guarantee that this won’t happen again and my detention officers and inmates aren’t in danger from electrical fires or smoke, we’ll repopulate the jail,” Jordan said. “But not before our people are safe.”

Jordan had all 67 inmates in the jail transported to other facilities — the bulk of them going to a Department of Adult Corrections prison in Bertie County, the rest to Pitt County and Pamlico County Detention Centers — essentially closing down the beleaguered jail until the electrical problems are solved.

But removing inmates from the location has created a greater challenge for the sheriff’s office. New arrests, releases and scheduled court appearances require continuous transport to and from the Beaufort County Courthouse and the facilities temporarily housing the inmates, according to Jordan.

“It’s like operating a jail from a remote location,” Jordan said. “We’re thankful we have partners like the Department of Corrections and other sheriff’s offices, but we still have to keep operating. It’s a much greater burden logistically than operating a jail on a normal basis.”

According to Capt. Catrena Ross, the jail’s administrator, the county is paying an estimated $50 per inmate, per day, to house Beaufort County’s inmates in other facilities. With 67 inmates, that means taxpayers are getting a $3,350 bill each day.

“That does not include the transportation — deputies have to go back and forth, back and forth,” Ross said.

While the DOC sent two buses to pick up inmates bound for Bertie County, all other transportation is done via a detention center van and sheriff’s office vehicles.

Ross said she has not received word about what has caused the second power outage. After the first outage, the problem was tentatively traced to 40-year-old wiring in the Courthouse.