Durham News

Durham Sheriff’s Office doubles inmate recreation time

Improvised weapons recovered at the Durham County jail.
Improvised weapons recovered at the Durham County jail. Courtesy of the Durham County Sheriff’s Office

Inmates at the Durham County jail have twice as much time out of their cells following a recent change by the Durham County Sheriff’s Office.

As of Oct. 1, general population inmates, mainly people awaiting trial, may use common and recreation areas eight hours a day. As of Wednesday, there were 518 inmates in the downtown Mangum Street jail.

The change from four to eight hours a day reflects Sheriff Mike Andrews’ pledge to only impose restrictions that are necessary for the jail’s safe operation, according to a statement.

“Detainee conduct will determine the facility’s schedule as it relates to inmate movement,” Andrews said in the statement.

Until March, inmates had been allowed out of their cells 10 hours a day. During that time they had access to a day room, a recreation yard, phones and showers.

In March, inmates’ time outside their cells was cut back to two hours every other day. While it was a significant reduction, it was still twice what state law requires: one hour, three days a week.

In April, Andrews said the change followed a rise in detainee on detainee violence and detainee on officer violence, along with threats against detention staff.

In May, jail officials increased the amount of time inmates were let out to two hours seven days a week.

By August, the time had been increased to four hours a day.

Monthly reports outlining use of force at the jail show the total number of incidents has fluctuated since March. Incidents involve situations in which an officer puts his hands on a detainee because of aggression toward an officer and disobeying an order, such as to leave a cell.

In March there were incidents. That number jumped to 27 in April, decreased to 19 in June and jumped back up to 27 in September.

Capt. Don Baker said the use-of-force incidents are just one factor that help determine what restrictions are needed at the jail. Other pieces include the number of infractions, the overall jail climate and population, and the number of make-shift weapons confiscated.

Damage alleged

The Inside-Outside Alliance, a group of family members and advocates, has protested what it calls the “lockback.”

On Wednesday, member Cynthia Fox, who has a son in the jail, said getting more time outside his cell means a lot.

“It means his mental state of mind can be reinvigorated,” Fox said. “That lockback has mentally and physically done a lot of damage.”

However, Fox said, the alliance still has many concerns relating to sanitary conditions, health care costs, the high price of phone calls and items in the jail’s canteen and other restrictions, such as not allowing inmates to have pencils in their cells.

The alliance says the lockback led to suicide attempts, which the Sheriff’s Office disputed, as well as a decline in inmates’ mental and physical health.

Members planned to hold a press conference outside the jail on Friday, after the deadline for today’s print edition of the The Durham News.

Inmate distress

In a July report to “interested members of the community” from the Durham County Manager’s Office, Andrews and other county officials answered questions related to concerns about the jail.

In the 17-page report, Criminal Justice Resource Center Director Gudrun Parmer said the confinement schedule that was initially implemented “did cause an increase in distress in both inmates with and without mental illness,” but there were no increased incidents of self-injury by inmates. Allowing inmates out of their cells four hours improved the situation, she wrote.

“We are no longer receiving the increased number of sick-call complaints like we received during the more severe restrictions,” Parmer stated in the report.

Pencils are prohibited in cells because inmates were writing on their cell walls, the report states. Letters are delivered to inmates unless they contan a public safety threat, it states, such as one letter that ordered a detainee to murder another detainee.

According to state law, inmates can be charged up $20 per incident for non-emergency medical care and a fee of $10 for a 30-day supply or less of a prescription drug, the report states.

Durham County inmates are charged a $20 co-pay for initiated sick call requests. Inmates aren’t charged for chronic care, follow-ups within two weeks and “true emergencies,” the report states.

“Inmates will not be refused service if they do not have funds,” the report states.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges

Use of force

Number of use-of force incidents, situations in which detention officers had to put hands on inmates, at the Durham County jail

Month-Total number of incidents-Inmates injured-Officer injured

March-14-2-0

April-27-6-3

May-26-3-0

June-19-0-1

July-23-3-4

August-24-6-1

September-27-3-3

Source: Durham County Sheriff’s Office

Online

View the Durham County Manager’s Office report answering questions about concerns about the jail. http://bit.ly/1Mhiq8S.

To view the Inside-Outside Alliance’s website and demands go here http://bit.ly/Insideoutsidea.

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