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Local News

New Report Unveils Safety Issues in North Carolina County Jails

Credit: iStock

Parker Wallis

According to a recent report from Disability Rights NC, a majority of county jails in North Carolina have failed inspections from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) from 2017 to 2019. 

These inspections, conducted by a three-person team from the DHHS’s Division of Health Service Regulation (DHSR), evaluate jails concerning their inmate supervision and health, overcrowding, sanitation, and fire safety, among other parameters. 

Disability Rights NC examined the DSHR inspection reports from all 109 county jails between 2017 and 2019, and they found that 41 jails failed every inspection in those two years with merely 15 facilities passing all checks. 

According to the report, 86 percent of all failed inspections were due to “construction/sanitation issues” (e.g. lack of clean showers or working HVAC systems). Thirty-eight percent of failures were due to supervision issues, 29 percent failed due to overcrowding, and 20 percent were failed for fire safety issues. 

Oftentimes, jails failed inspections due to repeated offenses. “In 211 instances,” the report reads, “a facility failed an inspection for the exact reason it failed the previous biannual inspection.”

Cumulatively, North Carolina county jails failed over 61 percent of inspections between 2017 and 2019, leaving only 38 percent of inspection reports with a passing grade. 

The report says the DHHS needs more staff and funding to properly address jail safety issues. Disability Rights NC also highlights the contrast between safety rule enforcement in healthcare facilities versus county jails. 

“When inspecting [health care] facilities, DHSR has the authority to levy various fines and to immediately order safety violations to be corrected before leaving the premises,” says the report. “By contrast, when a jail fails an inspection, there are no fines levied or immediate consequences for jail administrators. The state does not require jails to quickly address safety violations, endangering many lives.”

These failures have already led to deadly consequences, as summarized by the report. In Richmond County, for instance, inmate Adrian Campbell died of a heart condition on June 14th, 2018. A subsequent death investigation from the DHSR found that the Richmond County jail “missed several supervision rounds around the time of Mr. Campbell’s death,” and the “camera system in the block holding Mr. Campbell was not working.” On the day of Campbell’s death, the jail was overcrowded at over 130 percent capacity, and the facility failed an inspection due to overcrowding 3 months prior. 

The DHHS Secretary has the authority to close jails that are considered dangerous to staff or people in custody, and normally when jails fail an inspection, the local sheriff is responsible for drafting a “plan of correction” to address the issue, where it is then sent to the DHSR for approval. 

With these findings in the open, hopefully county jails will remedy the unsafe and downright dangerous conditions facing its inmates and staff.