© 2024 Blue Ridge Public Radio
Blue Ridge Mountains banner background
Your source for information and inspiration in Western North Carolina.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Report: County jails in North Carolina have safety issues

Ildar Sagdejev (Specious)

A new report from Disability Rights NCsays North Carolina's county jails suffer from a lack of oversight.

A state Department of Health and Human Services division inspects jails for inmate supervision and health, overcrowding, sanitation and fire safety. A team of three people in the DHHS Division of Health Service Regulation is responsible for reviewing all 109 county jails.

Disability Rights NC examined inspection reports from 2017 to 2019. It found 41 jails failed every inspection over those two years. Only 15 facilities passed all checks, according to the report, and 86% of all failures were due to "construction/sanitation issues," such as a lack of clean showers or working HVAC systems.

Often, according to Disability Rights NC, jails fail inspections for the same problems over and over.

"In 211 instances, a facility failed an inspection for the exact reason it failed the previous biannual inspection," the report said.

According to the report, inaction by sheriffs has led to inmate deaths in Vance, Rowan, Richmond and other counties.

The DHHS Secretary has the power to close jails that are considered dangerous to staff or people in custody. When a jail fails inspection, the local sheriff must devise a "plan of correction" to address the problem. The Division of Health Service Regulation will then approve the plan.

The Disability Rights NC report says DHHS needs more staff and funding to address jail safety issues fully. The report compares the enforcement of safety rules for hospitals and healthcare facilities with those for county jails.

"When inspecting those facilities, DHSR has the authority to levy various fines and to immediately order safety violations to be corrected before leaving the premises. By contrast, when a jail fails an inspection, there are no fines levied or immediate consequences for jail administrators. The state does not require jails to quickly address safety violations, endangering many lives," the report said.

The Department of Health and Human Services has not responded to media requests for comments on the report.

Copyright 2022 North Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio.

Bradley George