The Jail Committee – What Is the End Game?
I was nominated to be a member of the Jail Committee to study the current Beaufort County Detention Center. The challenge to this committee was to review the current practices regarding detention of detainees in the current facility and to explore possible means to improve the facility and to explore means to reduce the headcount of detainees.
Naturally, there are a large number of stake-holders in the "Incarceration Business." Yes, jails and prisons are a business and there are lots of people that depend upon this business to grow. The stakeholders are the courts, judges, district attorneys, prosecutors, defense attorneys, public defenders, the sheriff's office, sheriff's office investigators, bailiffs, magistrates, jail administrators, detention staff, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Beaufort County Health Department, and of course, detainees and their families.. There are two groups or classes of stake-holders that are the ones least talked about — the victims of crime and the tax payers. The tax payers are on the hook for all those listed above.
There has been a lot of noise pointing out how out of compliance the detention facility is comparing the standards from 1968 to new detention facility standards of 2020. There are no statutory requirements to upgrade the current facility to the new standards. Some have lamented about non-compliance with federal prison standards. Beaufort County North Carolina does not have a federal prison in the court house at the county seat, therefore there is no requirement to comply with such standards.
So far, we have heard from the District Attorney, the Dept. of Public Safety, and the previous jail administrator. The county manager has reported on discussions he has had with surrounding counties asking how Beaufort County could potentially work with them to house some or all of Beaufort County detainees. A regional detention center with three or more counties has been discussed. This option appears to be a non-starter because of the question of which county would exercise control and manage such a facility. There is also a question of staffing and which county would pay them and to whom they would report.
The Dept. of Public Safety representative provided details of the ankle bracelet program for monitoring probationers. They report to having a very robust program of monitoring and compliance with the restrictions placed upon the enrollees. The DA says the sheriff's office has such a program for pre-trial release, but does not know who is responsible for monitoring the program. Why does this committee not know who in the sheriff's office is assigned to this task?
The Dept. of Public Safety says they routinely bring people into the Beaufort County Detention Center for what they refer to as "quick dips." This is incarcerations for a week-end or a few days for violations of parole or probation. These "quick dips" appear to be unscheduled and must be dealt with by the magistrates and jail staff on the fly. If these people are juveniles or females, the sheriff's office has to transport them to another facility. Why? The current facility does not have the capability to segregate them from the male and adult population as required by NC Statutes. This is also true for new arrestees brought in by the sheriff's office and the other police departments from other municipalities in Beaufort County.
We heard from Commissioner Langley during the July and August 2019 commissioner meetings that he would support placing a bond referendum on the ballot to fund and construct a new detention facility. Recently, we heard Commissioner Langley at a candidate forum offer these comments in his closing statement.
"Think about our detention center. That is a money pit. We need to do something about this. The debt service on a new facility probably could have been half paid with all the money we have invested in this detention center."
Debt service is nothing more than the interest paid on borrowed money. Where would the funds come from to pay off the principle?
All county jails are money pits. They do not have a business plan that produces revenue and they never will. It is folly to pretend otherwise.
We have a general election in November 2020, and there is not a bond referendum on the ballot for the voters to approve or reject a new jail. Why is there not a referendum on the ballot? Why do the tax payers in Beaufort County not know the tax increase required to pay for a new detention center?
The previous detention center plans outlined a new facility to be constructed in one of the Industrial Parks in Beaufort County. The plans ultimately landed on the industrial park south of Chocowinity, five miles from the county seat and court house. These plans included a sheriff's office and 911 communications center. Also, the plans were designed to federal prison standards to allow Beaufort County to house federal prisoners. This made no sense and was rejected by the citizens of Beaufort County. It was also rejected by the Local Government Commission and the US Dept. of Agriculture, the proposed underwriter of a loan to build this facility.
There are radio ads running this week saying that Commissioner Rebholz supported a study group which would likely support building a new jail. This may or may not have been his goal, but that is not the goal of this study group. We have yet to hear from all the stake-holders and it is likely we never will. The Board of Commissioners is the only body that can authorize such a project or expenditure. And yes, the commissioners can do so without a vote of the people. This was demonstrated a few years ago. That is the reason there is not a bond referendum on the 2020 ballot. All they need from the tax payers is money, which they can legally extract from you with the vote of four commissioners.
The voters in Beaufort County will determine if a new detention center is built in Beaufort County based upon the outcome of the 2020 Board of Commissioner's elections. The problem here is that some of the voters do not know this and that is a sad commentary.
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