A federal assessment of the Durham County jail makes 33 recommendations to improve operations and conditions for its 510 inmates.
The recommendations include housing inmates with mental health issues in one area, providing more programs in housing units and seeking an independent review of the quality of inmates’ meals.
“While the scope of this operation assessment did not permit a comprehensive review of the operation, the general condition of the jail appears to meet or exceed N.C. standards,” the assessment states. “There is no indication of pervasive security violations or staff indifference.”
Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews asked the National Institute of Corrections to inspect the jail in response to community concerns. The institute is an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons that provides training, technical assistance, and policy and program development assistance to correction agencies.
In April, an expert visited the jail for two days. The assessment included meetings with staff and interviews with more than 50 inmates.
Andrews said he and Col. Natalie Perkins, who runs the jail, are reviewing the recommendations. Some are already being implemented, such as a review of recruitment and retention practices to address a high employee turnover rate.
The report recommends the sheriff’s office:
▪ Coordinate with other criminal justice partners to review who is incarcerated and whether viable alternatives to incarceration exist. Numerous interviewed inmates, most of whom are awaiting trial, said they had been in the jail for six or more months, the report states.
▪ Turn a closed housing area within the jail into a unit for detainees with mental health issues. Virtually all staff interviewed indicated a need, the report states. Andrews said about 25 percent of the population has mental health issues and he needs 14 more officers to staff the unit, but Durham County Manager Wendell Davis’ proposed 2016-17 budget does not fund that request. Davis said commissioners are discussing the budget and the jail report.
The report also recommends the sheriff’s office study how many beds are needed for each inmate classification and custody level. Housing should then be re-arranged based on bed need. One of the inmates’ biggest complaints was how often they are locked in their cells so the jail can deal with inmates of other classifications, the report states.
▪ Consider allowing workspace for public defenders at the jail so that inmates may discuss opportunities for a speedy trial.
▪ Brainstorm opportunities for inmates to better serve the community. The report states inmates are locked in their units for 23 to 24 hours each day.
“Any person left with so much unoccupied time will often find counterproductive activities to fill that time,” the report states.
Housing units include individual cells and a day room that inmates get access to eight to 10 hours a day. The report notes the jail has “limited space and resources available for inmate programming given the size of the facility.”
▪ Get an independent assessment of the quality and palatability of meals that meet dietary standards, but “may be lacking in flavor and variety.”
Andrews said the kitchen has added condiments and salt and pepper packets and in April started serving three hot meals a day instead of two.
▪ Expand staff training to collaborate with neighboring jurisdictions and develop an annual training plan to meet needs beyond minimum requirements.
A community-based, self-appointed Durham Jail Investigation Team has been protesting in front of the jail and demanding access to the facility and inmates to get more information on conditions, food, access to medical treatment and other issues.
The investigation team group grew out of the Inside-Outside Alliance, a group of family members and advocates, that have been protesting conditions at the jail for more than a year.
Cynthia Fox, a member of the alliance, said the group still wants an independent review.
“It’s quite insufficient,” Fox said of the federal inspection. Detainees continue to be treated like second-class citizens, she said.
The federal report notes “many positive attributes,” including access to medical care, funds for renovating bathrooms and cleaning supplies in housing areas. The report did note ventilation grills were partly covered, some with orange peels “presumably an attempt to freshen the air.”
See the full report at http://bit.ly/Durhamjail4