Jail Fail fail, March 10, 2015

Published 8:43 pm Monday, March 9, 2015

To the Editor:

The front page of the WDN on Feb. 15, 2015, displayed a headline entitled “JAIL FAIL” superimposed on a photo of the Beaufort County Detention Center cell block. From reading the accompanying article one could be led to believe that the facility is near the end of its useful life as a detention facility. In reality, the problematic issues pointed out in the reports are not new, just repeats of former reports by the North Carolina Division of Health Services. The latest two inspections in December 2014 were prompted by a suicide of an inmate during Sheriff Jordan’s tenure as Beaufort County Sheriff.

The WDN article picked from the reports what they felt to be the most egregious items such as unmet plumbing repairs, lack of a fire plan, smoke ventilation, and inmate contact with the general public in the fingerprint area. One item mentioned is the removal of a fire retardant barrier in the ceiling of one of the cellblocks. This barrier was removed 15 years ago!

The request for a comprehensive fire plan has been on reports for at least four years. Lighting and ventilation have been brought up for several years. Plumbing repairs have been problems for several years. There has been so much scaling in pipes that it has been difficult to get hot water to some cells. However, the Board of County Commissioners actually voted not to make plumbing repairs to the jail at their January 2015 meeting, and then twice more refused to consider it.

The report also referenced the suicide. A lack of routine visual contact with the inmate was documented through video recordings on the day this occurred. Visual observations of all inmates are required two times per hour, 24-7. Yet there was a two-hour time span during which the inmate placed a bed sheet in the cell preventing such contact. In fact, no contact of any kind was attempted.

All the conditions cited in the reports went to human failure on the part of jail employees and dereliction of duty. Simply put, there is absolutely nothing new in the reports and the majority of these issues could be addressed with better management of the facility. Furthermore, there is nothing in the report that requires the construction of a new jail.

There have been numerous newspaper stories posted over the last year in reference to building and financing a new jail. This has been contentious because a majority of the commissioners wanted to circumvent the requirement of holding a voter referendum. So they attempted to use a funding method that does not require a referendum.

The “Jail Fail” headline and article appear to be another attempt designed to grab attention and sway public opinion toward building a new jail. I would encourage the WDN to engage in investigative journalism and examine all sides of this issue with particular attention to financing methods and the requirements for voter approval of certain capital projects.

Ray Leary