01/31/06 — Crowded jail prompts county to eye extension

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Crowded jail prompts county to eye extension

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on January 31, 2006 1:54 PM

Overcrowding has been a continuous problem at the Wayne County Jail since it was built in 1994, Sheriff Carey Winders said.

And if extensions are not made within the next two years, Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said the problem will become worse.

"For the past four years, we have had over 200 people in jail at any given time," Smith said. "That puts us out of federal and state compliance."

The six floors of the county jail were built to house 200 inmates. However, Winders said the facility usually holds more than its capacity. By 2020, according to a study by Brennan and Associates, the forecasted population will be 312 inmates.

In 2004, county officials hired Brennan and Associates to assess the jail, Smith said. According to the company's findings, the county needs to reduce the inmate population, improve efficiency and begin plans to build extensions to the current jail.

Since the consultants' findings were presented to county officials, Smith said designs for a jail expansion have been drafted and taken into consideration.

The proposed extension would cost the county about $14.5 million and provide an additional 160 beds. Although the initial design has been completed, Smith said it will take time before the master plan is finished and construction can begin.

Plus, there is the matter of funding the project. Smith said a jail extension could be included in the county's five-year capital budget plan. It is certain, however, that the issue will be addressed for the county's next fiscal budget year, he said.

"I believe, in the next 24 months, we need to begin the final planning and start the process," Smith said.

The sooner the process begins, the better it is for the county and its inmates, Smith said.

The problems facing the Wayne County Jail are similar to other jails throughout the state. In Duplin County, consultants informed county officials they needed a new jail. Winders said the Wayne Couty Jail has become an example for the rest of the state -- but not in a positive way.

"I hate to say this, but we have had other people from other places come to look at our jail to look at how not to build one like this," Winders said. "It's not friendly. It's just not jail-friendly."

However, despite the overcrowding, the North Carolina Jail Association rated the Wayne County facility one of the top 10 in the state, Winders said. Last November, state inspectors informed the sheriff that the facility and the space used within it are fine.

Despite these acknowledgments from the state, Winders said the problem is growing and more space is necessary.

The cause of the overcrowding is due to the design of the structure, Winders said. With six floors of inmates to guard around the clock, he said more manpower is required.

Smith said the county should implement a cost-effective design that allows the jail to operate efficiently with less personnel. However, he said the county is also looking at how to keep people out of jail through alternative methods in the judicial process.

"We have looked at how to decrease the inmate numbers, but you can only do so much," Smith said. "People have to go to jail."

As long as criminals are breaking the law, Winders said it is the duty of law enforcement officials to arrest the perpetrators and to take them to jail.

Hopefully, he said, the extensions will help reduce overcrowding.

"It would give us a good starting point for the future. You want to build for the future," Winders said. "We at least need that for now and upcoming years."