Dryer at root of jail problems

Published 5:52 pm Monday, June 17, 2013

A newly installed dryer appears to be the culprit behind back-to-back power outages at the Beaufort County Detention Center. The June 6 and June 8 outages plunged the jail into darkness and led Sheriff Alan Jordan to close the facility until the problem is solved.

The first outage took place during torrential rain from Tropical Storm Andrea. During the second outage, 67 Beaufort County inmates were moved to the Department of Correction facility in Bertie County, while women and juveniles were transferred to Pitt County Detention Center. They continue to be held in those facilities at an average cost of $50 per inmate per day, a cost that does not include the daily transport of inmates to and from court appearances, according to Jail Administrator Capt. Catrena Ross.

“Anytime we’re spending money when we didn’t budget to do this or plan it — we don’t want to do that,” said Beaufort County Manager Randell Woodruff. “But you don’t have a lot of choice when you have a maintenance issue pop up like this. We want to get inmates back in the jail as soon as we can so we won’t be spending the money.”

According to Woodruff, it was likely cost-saving measures that caused the power outages in the jail, as preliminary investigation traced the problem back to a newly installed dryer. Years ago, space constraints in the small facility demanded officials do away with laundry facilities and outsource laundry, but in the interest of saving the county money, they were reinstalled earlier this year. Based on the review of the situation, county maintenance personnel determined it was the use of the dryer that landed the jail in the dark, Woodruff said.

Though the county had budgeted to farm out jail inmates for a period of time this summer because of routine jail maintenance — fumes from the durable paint used in the jail’s interior require inmates to be evacuated— the sudden evacuation and work schedule didn’t add up, according to Woodruff.

“Unfortunately, the timing is not possible to get it done now,” Woodruff said.

Tonight, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners will hold a special meeting to discuss the jail issue.

Woodruff said information is being gathered to present to Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr., who will decide whether the jail will reopen and, if so, when it will do so.