Overflow at jail remains an issue
By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 24, 2013 1:50 AM
Wayne County officials are feeling the pressure to do something about jail overcrowding after an additional expense was added to the already large bill for finding somewhere outside the county to house overflow prisoners.
The $200,000 appropriated by the Wayne County commissioners this past week brings the total housing cost for the fiscal year to $653,000. The county expects to budget between $750,000 and $900,000 in 2013-14 to cover that expense.
"You really need to look at something that you can do now," Sheriff Carey Winders told the commissioners this week. "Nothing that you can do right now immediately is going to fix the problem totally, but it will help the problem, to stop some of the bleeding.
"I can only see the clock ticking. At some point in time, the state of North Carolina is going to say, 'We are not going to take any more state misdemeanants. They are yours. Figure out what you are going to do.' Then what are you going to do? That is when you are going to be in trouble. So you can do it now, or you are going to pay it later -- one way or the other."
Commissioners could have some options to consider within the next few weeks.
Officials with the Brennan Group, the consulting firm hired by the county to look at jail issues, are ready to bring back a final budget analysis within the next two to three weeks, County Manager Lee Smith said.
Commissioner Joe Daughtery said he hoped something would be ready by the next board meeting. However, Chairman Steve Keen reminded him that commissioners had voted for all facilities issues to first go through the Facilities Committee, which is chaired by Commissioner Ray Mayo.
Commissioner John Bell said he did not quite follow that.
Keen said the Facilities Committee is doing a "thorough investigation" of every county-owned facility, including costs.
Keen asked Bell if that helped.
"No comment," Bell said.
During a recent Facilities Committee meeting, Brennan Group officials outlined three projects ranging in cost from $3 million to $51 million.
The cheapest, about $3 million, would be to renovate the old bank building, which until recently housed Services on Aging, to provide more jail bed space.
The second option would add 256 beds by building a four-story addition to the existing jail. However, it would require that Chestnut Street be closed, which would require approval by the Goldsboro City Council.
If the city didn't agree to close the street, the jail addition could be built on the other side of Chestnut Street and connected to the existing jail by a skywalk. The cost would be approximately $31 million.
The third option, constructing a new 500-bed jail, would cost approximately $51 million.
Mayo said some commissioners didn't remember seeing the money for housing come up in the past.
"Does it always come out of the fund balance?" he said.
"No," Smith said. "We had a dollar figure in the budget that we did this year. We have not had that (fund balance appropriation) because our numbers have not been this high."
During the board's 8 a.m. briefing session, Commissioner Wayne Aycock wanted to know if the $200,000 had already been spent. Smith said it had not. Rather it was in anticipation of what would be required to get the county through the fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Mayo asked Smith how long the county had been "farming out" inmates.
"We started mid last year," Smith said. "We have been able to keep the (inmate population) numbers under 240, but we are really watching that. It keeps going up. We are at an all-time high. We are hitting that 240-250 mark every day. When we do that, we have to send them out because the last (state) jail inspection last spring said, 'We are not going to tolerate numbers like that.'"
Keen asked Winders if the jail numbers had exceeded what had been projected when coming up with the $456,000 in the budget.
"We said it was going to be overage," Winders said. "We knew that from the get-go. I know what you are asking, how much are we going to anticipate making arrests? That is impossible for me to tell you -- how many arrests we are going to make or how many more people we are going to arrest? We might not arrest anybody. You have seen the daily reports. Some reports come in we don't have any (arrests), very little.
"The next night it will be loaded down. So you never know. It is hard to anticipate what that average daily population is going to be. You really don't know. You don't know what kind of inmate that you are going to arrest. If it is one that has a terminal illness. Are we just going to go out and arrest everybody who is healthy this week? We have not projected how much medical we are going to have to spend."
Smith said there are regular meetings with judges to see which inmates can be let out under electronic monitoring or pleas in an effort to ease overcrowding.
Even with that, there are still 42 inmates being housed in other counties, Winders said.
"It is $50 a day to send someone out and that does not include the transportation, bringing them back and forth to the court," he said. "Also, it does not include the medical expenses that we incur for those inmates should they have anything, wherever they are being kept."
That is compared to about $7 a day for electronic monitoring, Smith said.
A pending bill, introduced by a bail bondsman, would require that a person be in jail for three days before being eligible for release under electronic monitoring, he said.
Smith urged commissioners to voice their opposition to the bill to legislators.
Mayo questioned how effectively the county was using electronic monitoring.
Without it there would be 30 more people in jail, Winders said. Smith added that he wants to include funds for another 50 in the new budget.
Winders said that getting people out is a "sore subject" for him.
"Folks, we have come to the point where we are letting some out that I think should be there (in jail)," Winders said. "People look at the paper and say they got out with no bond or on ankle bracelets.
"I have a double-edged sword because I have law enforcement coming to me saying, 'I work my butt off to get this guy, put him in jail and get him off the streets. Yet Sheriff, you turn around on the other side, you and the major (jailer Fane Greenfield) and try to figure out how to get him out.' So I have that sword sticking through me both ways."
Winders said that people ask why there is so much jail "overage."
"Well, I am one who does not believe in the crime index," he said. "You never see me quoted in the paper that the crime rate has dropped. I think every year it has dropped. Pretty soon it ought to be zero.
"They always say the crime rate drops, yet the jail is always full. It always increases, and I can't figure it out. If the crime rate has dropped then your jail should be empty, but that is not the figure that we see."
Another issue is that the county has to separate the (gang members), he said. Also, the county cannot mix inmates charged with murder in with the rest of the jail population, Winders said.
Another factor contributing to the overpopulation is the backlog at the State Bureau of Investigation lab, where it can take six months to get drug tests back, he said.
Also, there are only so many attorneys in the county, sometimes working cases in both superior and district courts.
There are some inmates who have been in jail as long as three years awaiting trial, Winders said. There are only so many court dates where murder trials can be held, and maybe four a year are held, he said.
"Right now we have 26 for murder and six for attempted murder," Winders said.
"Another problem is that lawyers in Wayne County are not taking capital cases," County Attorney Borden Parker said. "So if it is a capital case, (the state) appoints two lawyers for them. Those two lawyers are being appointed all around the state."
Getting both together for motions is "extremely difficult," Parker said.