Durham News

Durham jail relaxes confinement rules

The Durham County jail has begun letting inmates out of their cells for two hours every day, easing rules put in place after a surge in violence.

The jail used to let inmates out of their cells into a dayroom with access to a recreation yard, showers and phones 10 hours a day. That changed in March after an increase in violence and threats were made to kidnap guards, jail director Lt. Col. Natalie Perkins said.

A March sweep of the jail found more than 20 makeshift knives, items filed down into sharp points, Staff Sgt. Justin Ellerbee said.

The violence led to new rules commonly called a lock-back that confined inmates to their cells all but two hours, three days a week.

At six hours outside their cells per week, the jail was still providing twice the minimum three hours per week that the state requires.

As behavior improved, the jail increased the two-hour “walks” to four days a week. On Monday, Sheriff Mike Andrews announced that the walks are now daily as of this week.

That still does not satisfy family members of inmates in a group called the Inside-Outside Alliance, which plans to continue its Friday night protests outside the downtown jail.

Confining inmates to a small room where they use the toilet is unsanitary and unfair, said Cynthia Fox, whose son is in the jail.

“There are a lot of people who do deserve to be in jail,” Fox said. “But there’s no way the whole Durham County jail ought to be locked up for what some people do.”

The jail now has 541 inmates in 12 pods of 48 cells each, some with bunk beds.

Inmates are being released from 12 cells at a time, up from six previously, with the mix of those being released constantly changing to prevent groups from organizing.

The jail houses inmates in different pods based on classifications such as gender, mental status and level of offense. Officials say there are too many troublemakers to separate them all from everyone else.

“It’s an ever-moving puzzle to make sure we don’t have physical altercations over there, but things happen,” Andrews said Tuesday.

Schultz: 919-932-2003