Lamentations about the Durham County jail coming from local social-justice groups, for whom there is no end of oppression in the grip of The Man, bring to mind the lyrics of a classic Kingston Trio ditty. With a couple of changes, of course.
So here we are in the Durham County jail
Ain’t got no friends to go our bail
So here we’ll stay ‘cause we can’t pay
Never miss a local story.
Just send our mail to the Durham County jail
Compared to the Tijuana jail in the original lyrics, the 520-odd inmates at the Durham County Detention Center have it pretty good, no matter how much they and their Greek chorus argue otherwise.
The Durham County Detention Center is taking flak for allegedly treating inmates inhumanely by restricting them to six hours of pod time a week help pacify the slammer.
Critics call this “lock back.” Sheriff Mike Andrews calls it “a modified detainee walk schedule.”
I call it common sense. The first responsibility of the Sheriff’s Office is imposing order on an inmate population prone to violence. And violence is the root of the issue at DCDC. It is not an assemblage of genteel people.
Lt. Col. Natalie Perkins, the jail’s top cop, blames much of the inmate-on-inmate violence on two gangs with a national reach, the Bloods and the Crips. Apparently, they turn to internecine violence when not at war with each other.
But it’s not just violence among inmates that worries Perkins and her boss, Sheriff Andrews. The rising level of threats and attacks is also directed at detention officers.
When crude knives and other homemade weapons are swept up in cell searches, you know you’ve got a problem.
It’s aggravated by wacky activist groups such as the Inside-Outside Alliance, which purports to speak for the inmates. The alliance is fiercely critical of the criminal justice process, not just incarceration conditions.
In one respect, however, the alliance is correct when it argues that the entire jail population is being punished with lock-back for the transgressions of a few.
It isn’t fair, but when you don’t have the detention infrastructure to keep troublemakers separated from the general population, you do what you can within the law to keep order.
DCDC inmates are assigned to 48-cell pods with access to a commons for recreation and exercise. State law mandates that inmates get a minimum of three hours a week outside their cells, so DCDC is not close to isolating them, as Inside-Outside claims.
The left tries to portray many inmates as mentally disturbed rather than as people who committed rational acts of violence – it’s part of the therapeutic culture that’s taken hold in the United States since the mid-’60s. Thus the emphasis on isolation as inhumane.
A supermax prison imposes isolation far beyond the rules at DCDC. Isolation of violent inmates is a means to an end, and not necessarily an inhumane one.
DCDC is not Guantanamo Bay, as some inmates have claimed. But like Gitmo, inmates’ behavior determines their level of restrictions.
Detention officers have the most difficult jobs in the Sheriff’s Office. They are the front line, subjected to all manner of indignities and threats.
They are not saints, and we shouldn’t expect them to be. But neither are they sadists, as activists seek to portray them.
Inside-Outside’s agenda is plain-spoken. It’s the usual litany of anarchism, beginning with the struggle against white supremacy and going from there.
The group says it wants a “world without cops, cages and borders.” Fortunately for the rest of us, that’s not a world. It’s a fantasy.
Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.