09/22/08 — Jail ... overflowing

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Jail ... overflowing

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on September 22, 2008 1:42 PM

When the population of the Wayne County jail goes over 180 inmates, there are some who must sleep on mattresses on the floor.


News-Argus/Bobby Williams

Capt. James Tadlock, chief jailer for the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, locks a cell at the jail early today. As many as 50 inmates are having to sleep on mattresses on the floor of the jail as the facility’s daily population has averaged far more than the 200 inmates it was built to house.

That's because the six-floor jail was meant to house a maximum of 200 prisoners. Sheriff's Office jail Capt. James Tadlock said the population was hovering at more than 250 all last week.

"The (current) jail population is 251 -- we've got over 50 people without a bed," Tadlock said.

By state regulations, jail populations must be split up by category. That means different numbers of different population "types" wind up without traditional jail beds, the captain said.

"We've got 26 females, that puts four females on the floor, then the rest of them will be males. Juveniles, we've got 10, that leaves two juveniles on the floor," Tadlock said.

The jail captain said September is often a busy month for the jail, which he linked to back-to-school season, which he said can leave recent graduates with a lot of time on their hands as their younger peers return to classes.

"When school gets out, usually we pick up a lot of people," Tadlock said. "We usually pick up when school is out. I guess there's more people that are really not working and everything, so they're kind of hanging around."

The jail population has been consistently high throughout the summer, however, Tadlock said.

"It was 230 in August, 221 in July," Tadlock said.

The high numbers make for close quarters and limited personal space between inmates, and tension can be one result, the captain said.

"Their tempers are short when you're overcrowded," Tadlock said. "There's nowhere to walk and move around."

And the current jail population includes people who are accused of serious and violent crimes, particularly murder.

District Attorney Branny Vickory, Sheriff Carey Winders, Superior Court Judge Jerry Braswell and Tadlock all have said that the number of people accused of murder in the Wayne County Jail is as high as they ever remember.

"There's 22 people waiting to be tried on murder charges," Tadlock aid. "Twenty-two people for murder -- that's a high number of people waiting to go to trial."

Of the defendants accused of murder, 14 suspects were charged by the city of Goldsboro, five charged by town of Mount Olive police, and three facing murder charges filed by the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, the jail captain said.

Other defendants currently housed by the jail include 10 people with alleged sexually-related offense, and about 25 charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon, attempted murder and other serious offenses, the captain said. The remainder of the jail population are accused of drug-related offenses, Tadlock said.

The heavy overcrowding over the past three months is hardly the first time the jail has been overcrowded -- officials have counted populations as high as at least 240 since 2005.

And overcrowding has really been a problem since the jail was built in 1994, Winders said.

Braswell has done a few things seeking to help address the problem -- one is his "rocket docket" program, instituted around 2003, which allows inmates to communicate willingness to plead guilty through a letter to the judge.

A more recent development is the addition of a "jail liaison" -- Corin Craft, originally hired through a temporary service, manages inmate mail that might indicate willingness to move toward a trial or plea.

Ms. Craft also works with the district attorneys and court-appointed attorneys and checks with other counties about charges Wayne County inmates might be facing elsewhere, which can have an impact on whether they are tried in Wayne County court.

Tadlock said Ms. Craft has been performing her duties well.

"I think she's doing a good job -- she's trying to get these people to court. She works well. She's moving the people out," Tadlock said.

But Tadlock and the sheriff said that even with the new coordination techniques, the actual facility space will continue to be insufficient.

"Sooner or later, we're going to have to build a new facility," Winders said.