NC officials: Davidson County jail overpopulated, unclean
Issues include problems with the smoke evacuation system and fire alarm system, inadequate lighting in different areas, overloaded power strips in the booking office
The Dispatch, Lexington, N.C.
An inspection of the Davidson County Detention Center conducted by the state in December revealed several deficiencies and violations, including overpopulation, dirty detention blocks and failure to conduct appropriately timed supervised rounds, according to a report.
The inspection came on Dec. 18 and was conducted by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The inspections are conducted biannually. In a letter to Davidson County Sheriff Richie Simmons dated Jan. 15, the state said the Sheriff's Office must submit a plan of correction for each deficiency by Feb. 14, including dates of when action will be completed.
The document, which is 18 pages long, lists issues with the smoke evacuation system and fire alarm system, inadequate lighting in different areas, overloaded power strips in the booking office, repeated plumbing citations dating back to 2015 and damaged walls and ceilings.
Simmons is schedule to provide an update on the jail to the commissioners on Feb. 7.
"We're working hard to come out with the real stats and stuff like this and that's what we want to present to the commissioners on the seventh," Simmons. "We've got an old portion of the jail that we do need to decommission and improve this jail. We're always wanting to improve. It's definitely time to improve things."
The report stated the jail is meant to hold 241 male beds and 56 female beds for a total of 297 inmates. At the time of the visit, the male beds were over capacity by 69 and the jail overall was over capacity by 65.
The inspectors also observed toilets not working properly, lack of hot water in one cell block, sinks not working, dirty showers, mold and missing floor tiles.
According to General Statute, officers are supposed to make supervised rounds and directly observe inmates twice per hour on an irregular basis. The report found that officers did not meet the requirement on Dec. 14, 15 and 16.
The document later indicated that another General Statute requires direct observance — at least four times per hour — of inmates who physically hit or try to hit an officer, who are verbally abusive, who state they will harm themselves, who are intoxicated or who are displaying erratic behavior. That requirement was not met either. The inspection said security equipment was not operational because the master control software that allows staff to observe and open and close doors in the facility indicated that doors were open when staff believed the doors were actually locked.
At the Jan. 22 Davidson County Board of Commissioners meeting, the board decided to move forward with a plan that would focus on construction of new space for the Davidson County Courthouse and Clerk of Superior Court. The cost of the plan was originally $17 million, but has increased by $12 million to a total of $29.69 million.
Under this plan, a new jail would be constructed at the current location of the U.S. Post Office. The lease for the Post Office doesn't expire until 2022, so construction would not begin until then.
Commissioner Zak Crotts was the only commissioner to vote against moving forward with the plan because he felt the commissioners needed to hear about the jail first.
Crotts believes there is a chance the jail could have its certification revoked, which means the county would have to ship inmates to other facilities and pay for rent, transportation and medical costs.
"I’ve known it’s been a problem since before I ever got on the board, and I’ve been talking about it this whole time," Crotts said. "I’ve even said in open meetings that the jail is a problem. I didn’t think we could wait until the Post Office vacates for us to put a jail there. I don't think the state will let us. I keep hearing from the board as long as we have a plan, they’ll leave us alone. I don’t think that’s going to happen."
Crotts said he thinks the board should have placed the clerk's office in the Windstream building. However the commissioners decided to sell the Windstream building to the City of Lexington.
He said he believes the county shouldn't spend $30 million on the courthouse right now because the jail is a bigger priority. Crotts said he thinks the Administrative Office of the Courts won't shut the courts down, so the county can wait to build space for the courthouse.
"We already had the clerk stuff figured out; they chose a different route and that's what the board chose. I think we missed the boat," Crotts said. "I think we should've done that, have that fixed and alleviated — the (Administrative Office of the Courts) has been saying the clerk's office is one of the worst in the state, if not the worst. Go ahead and fix that problem."
Commissioner Fred McClure said when he read the inspection report, he shared his concerns with County Manager Zeb Hanner.
Regarding mechanical issues, McClure said those issues should be fixed as soon as they happen and that the commissioners should be advised whenever those issues aren't being fixed.
"We've had issues with that old part of the jail for some time, and we almost have to have a full maintenance person down there every day just to take care of the issues," McClure said. "It goes back a long way. The most pressing concern from the people from the state was the clerk's office and that's what they wanted us to take care of. We've had some issues with the jail, but at the time we started planning, the jail population was down below 300. So we were not overcrowded at that time, but we are now. We are working some different programs to reduce the population in the jail that doesn't have anything to do with the inspection report."
McClure also said he doesn't believe the state wants to decertify any jail.
"The state wants you to repair and get the jail in working order," McClure said. "And the state will look at what we're doing, and if the problem's fixed that's in the old jail and we've got plans for a new jail, I can't see how they would just come in and decertify our jail."
Simmons described the condition of the jail as something that requires much of his focus.
The sheriff also acknowledged that he has heard talks of decertifying the old portion of the jail.
"I don't know if that will come to pass or not," Simmons said. "It's something that we're definitely looking at and that's why we're going to meet on the seventh to see if that's something that needs to be done. It's whatever (the commissioners) let me do. I'd like to see a new jail.
" ... We're doing the best we can because if we don't get these things fixed, it can really charge and really tax the taxpayer with having to pay for this. We're going to do everything in our power to make use of what we got and make it work. But I would like to see a new jail that would accommodate so we don't get these type of inspections ever again."
©2019 The Dispatch, Lexington, N.C.