A Durham advisory board has made 10 recommendations it says will improve the county jail and help the public know what goes on there.
Among the changes the Durham Human Relations Commission wants are the creation a civilian review board, allowng a community-based research team survey jail inmates and staff, and the elimination of a cash bail system that keeps some people in jail even though they have not been convicted of a crime.
Eleven commission members approved the 18-page draft report Tuesday night. Two members voted against the report, and one person abstained.
“What is happening in Durham is intertwined with the history and consequences of mass incarceration,” the report says. “In our investigation, we can see the trends present right here in our community, particularly the racial disparities, the number of people in jail for low-level offenses, companies profiting from putting people in our jail.”
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“Durham is situated however to mitigate the impacts of incarceration on our community,” the report says.
The recommendations to Durham County include:
▪ Create a civilian oversight board
▪ Allow a community-based research team to conduct a survey of jail inmates and staff members.
▪ Don’t shift inmate visitation to video only
▪ Create a policy where the public can tour the jail
▪ Demand more accountability and better services from private contractors
▪ Increase mental heath services in the jail
▪ End the use of locking detainees in their cells for extended periods of time in response to threats of violence
Recommendations to the city, county and the judicial district include:
▪ Eliminate the cash bail and other hindrances that prevent the release of low-level offenders
▪ Expand anti-recidivism and other programs
▪ Limit cooperation with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement
The commission will present the report to the City Council and Board of County Commissioners, but it’s unclear what impact it may have.
The Human Relations Commission is a 15-member board appointed by the City Council. The Durham County Sheriff’s Office runs and sets policy for the jail, though the county commissioners can influence some jail services through the budget process and approving contracts.
In a Facebook post Sheriff Mike Andrews said the jail is not “a tourist attraction,” and “will not be open for tours.” Andrews also wrote that his office doesn’t control the bail bond system.
“I would appreciate your energy to assist law enforcement in stopping crime and individuals from committing crime or worse individuals from losing their life on the streets,” he wrote.
“We still need to be acknowledge that citizens of Durham want this to be discussed,” said Phil Seib, chair of the Human Relations Commission. “There’s only so many vehicles that could initiate this change, and that we would do what we could to find the entities that are responsible for it.”
The commission’s public hearings on alleged police bias in 2013 and 2014 and subsequent report was part of a years-long process that led to changes in that department, including the requirement that police obtain signatures from motorists before searching vehicles without probable cause, or evidence of a crime.
In September the commission held a forum in response to concerns raised by inmate advocacy group the Inside-Outside Alliance, which has been protesting jail conditions for more than two years. Those concerns led Andrews to ask the National Institute of Corrections to inspect the jail last year.
County officials also recently hired a new vendor to prepare meals and sought county funding for 10 new detention officers to help staff a mental health pod in the jail, along with funding other expanded mental health services and pre-trial services.
The commission’s recommendations were developed after a six-person subcommittee reviewed external reports, letters from inmates and news articles, talked sheriff’s officials and toured the jail, said subcommittee co-chair Diane Standaert, who is also a board member for advocacy group Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
“So many times the arrows all pointed to the same problems, regardless of the source that you were looking at,” she said. “That’s what we reported on are those finding from what we heard from members of the community: who was in the jail, what’s happening in the jail ... all of those things that produced tensions and issues and concerns that were being brought to the commission.”
‘Led by nose’
Human Relations Commission member Richard Ford, who along with Ricky Hart voted against approving the report, said the last time they engaged in such a report was relating to the Police Department.
“And in my opinion we were led by the nose by a member ... of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice,” he said. And now they have another report chaired by a person who is on the board of that entity, he said
Hart said the report doesn’t mention other parts of the system that contribute to some of the issues raised, such as the magistrate and the district attorney.
“They are very critical on who goes to the jail,” he said. “But you never mention none of that. It’s like you are just pounding the sheriff’s department on what they are supposed to,” with a budget set by county commissioners.