03/13/05 — Jail commission seeks answers to overcrowding

View Archive

Jail commission seeks answers to overcrowding

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on March 13, 2005 2:12 AM

The Wayne County Criminal Justice Study Commission -- formed in 1998 to find ways to reduce the jail population -- was reconvened Friday for the first time in more than two years, with the jail overflowing again.

For about a year, the jail has averaged 235 inmates in the 200-bed building that was opened in 1994 and replaced a 100-bed jail.

County Manager Lee Smith said consultants had found that the county would need to house an average of more than 300 inmates in a few years. He said the county commissioners board wanted the study commission to find a way to reduce the jail population.

The alternative, Smith said, would be the construction of an expanded jail, adjacent to the current building, at a cost of $15 million.

Commission members expressed varied opinions on the jail problem. Sheriff Carey Winders said what some said privately.

"When Judge Arnold Jones was here, we didn't have the problem with jail cases," Winders said. "He worked hard to keep the jail cleaned out. ... We're full and we need some help."

The current resident Superior Court judge, Jerry Braswell, told Smith on Thursday that he could not attend the luncheon meeting at Wilber's Barbecue.

Smith said he was concerned about county employees working in a crowded jail. He said they were placed "in great harm's way every day."

District Attorney Branny Vickory said that before a new jail were built, certain detainees could be released or housed in a less restrictive setting. Among those, he said, were probation violators, child support debtors or minor misdemeanor defendants.

"They don't need to be housed like first-degree murder suspects," Vickory said.

Winders agreed and said probation violators had been convicted and should be sent to a state prison until a violation hearing.

"We want bad people in jail," Winders said. "Our guys are working hard to put them in jail."

"Our No. 1 priority is the safety of the citizens of Goldsboro and Wayne County," Police Chief Tim Bell said. "We should never forget that. ... A number of them should stay there -- those who habitually break into houses, sell drugs or rob old women. We shouldn't let people out on the street, because we have another problem."

The jail on Friday held 223 inmates, including 23 women. Sheriff's Capt. James Tadlock, the jail administrator, said 7,577 people were housed last year.

Winders also noted that the State Bureau of Investigation crime lab had a 12-month backlog on drug cases and an even longer backlog on murder cases.

Some counties have started their own crime labs. Smith said he would try to find out if it could be cost-effective here.

Braswell had complained about the lack of security in the Courthouse at a previous commission meeting. Smith said the county had hired a private company to provide security in the Courthouse and other buildings. If the county were ordered to implement electronic monitoring in the Courthouse, he said it could be done in three days.

"We need all the help we can get," said County Commissioner Atlas Price, the study commission chairman. The jail overcrowding "is a complicated situation" that will take time to solve. "We have to work together as a team."