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Jail committee revived

Beaufort County commissioners have revived a committee to look into the local jail and its issues.

The decision came by a 5-2 vote at the Monday night meeting of the Board of Commissioners.

While the concept of a jail committee in the past referred to a committee tasked with planning a new jail, it will be different this time around.

“The purpose is to look at options related to the existing jail. I think, out of their conversations at the strategic planning session, (commissioners said) ‘We need to look at this; we need to look at all the options.’ What are the current limitations? Can those limitations be overcome? If not what is it going to take to overcome them and what is the cost? The best solution?” said Beaufort County Manager Brian Alligood.

Commissioners Jerry Langley, John Rebholz and Frankie Waters were assigned to the committee.

“The thought is to explore all the different options, from getting out of the business altogether, … to partnering with another jail, to potentially having to build a new jail,” Rebholz said. “I don’t have any preconceived ideas as to which is the best way out of this.”

Rebholz referred to the jail’s ongoing problems: three lawsuits filed alleging violation of inmates’ civil rights, one of which is still pending; the failure of the door-locking system, requiring replacement along with closure of some cellblocks and the cost of housing inmates elsewhere. He said he was made aware of the jail issues before his first meeting in November, when he sworn in to replace Commissioner Gary Brinn, who died in October.

“When I first came in, in the package you get each month, you get a list of all the prisoners and where they’re located, how long they’ve been in and what their bail is,” Rebholz said. “We had 18 prisoners with bond for under $5,000 and 16 of them were in other people’s jails. I said, ‘This doesn’t make any sense.’”

The last jail committee was disbanded after the 2015 election when several seats flipped and the new board voted to abandon the plan for a new jail. The “Stop the Jail” committee, which later became Citizens for a Better Beaufort County, was outspoken against the idea, among others. The ultimate result was the USDA rescinding loan opportunities for a new county jail.

“The feedback I’ve gotten was the whole discussion wasn’t transparent, and people felt that things were being done that weren’t in their best interest,” Rebholz said. “It needs to be transparent to the county residents.”

In an effort to involve the public, the jail committee will not be limited to commissioners. The new committee will be made up of nine members total, including three stakeholders in the jail involved daily with the jail either from an operational or judicial standpoint, and three members of the public — one from the City of Washington, where the jail is located; another from the north side of the Pamlico River outside the City of Washington; and a third from the south side of the Pamlico River.

Alligood said the first meeting of commissioners on the committee will determine how the other six members are chosen.

“I’m sure there are going to be some people who are very interested in that; who would want to be a part of that,” Alligood said. “I can assure you those will be some well-attended meetings.”