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The profit motive behind overcrowded NC jails
Money incentive in rural and small counties
Published Wednesday, January 24, 2018 11:25 am
by Tia Nanjappan, Media Lab

Jails in rural and smaller North Carolina counties are holding  other jurisdictions’ inmates to the point of overcrowding.

Gaston County Jail houses 574 inmates, 50 more inmates than official capacity. Several inmates were shipped in from outside the county.

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, mass incarceration is increasing in rural and small counties. One driving force is jails holding inmates for other authorities.

Already overcrowded, Gaston County Jail continues to accept more inmates from outside authorities, causing tension among staff and prisoners.

“We are overcrowded right now,” Kim Johnson, assistant chief deputy at Gaston County Jail, said. “We became overcrowded in January or February of” 2016.

The high jail population leads to overcrowding which leads to tension within jail staff and officers, Johnson said.

Sgt. John Lomick said that some officers have difficulties dealing with the number of inmates in jail.

One of the most difficult parts of holding inmates for other agencies is the dangers they could pose for other inmates, Lomick said.
The county that sends the inmate over to an outside jail handles transportation, and the jail that houses these inmates takes care of everything else including food and visitation, Lomick said.

“When there’s more people in the jail, there’s more to think about it in general. If you put too many people in one place, tensions start to rise,” Johnson said.

When the inmate count goes up, everything associated with that goes up as well – including food and other expenses, Lomick said.

“It’s the safety of everything. If you have just one inmate that can’t be around anybody, trying to get him or her from point A to point B without any other influences from other inmates, any types of fights or assaults…that is the most complicated issue,” Lomick said.

At the time of the interview, Lomick said the jail is holding inmates for federal authorities that were big in the gang world so keeping them separate was imperative to keeping the other inmates safe.

Because of overcrowding, the Gaston County Jail is considering an expansion, coming just 10 years after its last expansion.

“We have had an architect draw up plans, so we are looking at expanding, but it has to be approved by county commissioners first,” Johnson said.

Lomick said part of the reason they are looking at expanding is because of the increase in agencies that ask the jail to hold inmates for them.

Holding inmates for other authorities account for 21 percent of its jail population, according to Vera.

Due to overcrowding, Gaston County Jail has had to send their own inmates to other counties as well. One was Cherokee County, said Captain Mark Patterson, the jail administrator for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office.

From Gaston County, the Cherokee Jail is almost four hours away.

The farthest counties Gaston has held inmates for is Cabarrus County, which is more than an hour away, Johnson said.

The jail holds other inmates because of a kind of brotherhood, Lomick said. They help out other counties or agencies when inmates get to be too much to handle.

“If we have inmates here that we may not be able to control or if they have other inmates that they aren’t able to be around and it’s hard for us to facilitate that, we’ll send them to other counties and they do that vice-versa. Just kind of helping them out,” Lomick said.

Lomick concedes that holding inmates for other authorities is also good revenue for the jail.

From June 2016 to July 2017, Gaston County made more than $1.5 million from holding inmates from other agencies and counties, according to Gwen Danner, the business services administrator for the Gaston County Sheriff’s Office.

Some of the federal authorities the Gaston jail holds for include the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the US Marshalls. The jail rarely holds inmates for the state, but they do hold for the Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Program, Lomick said.

Gaston is one of 63 counties in North Carolina that volunteer to house inmates through the Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Program.

According to the N.C. Sheriff’s Association, the Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Program manages housing, transportation and medical expenses of state inmates convicted of a misdemeanor. If the inmate is sentenced for more than 90 days, the state pays for the inmate’s expenses even in another county.

Counties volunteer to house these inmates and are paid $40 a day by the state for housing and medical expenses, said Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel for the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association.

While $40 a day doesn’t seem like much, throughout the fiscal year – from June 2016 to July 2017 – the Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Fund disbursed over $18.1 million to counties for reimbursement of expenses, according to the Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Program’s Annual Report.
With this program, an inmate can be transferred to any one of 63 counties that volunteer through the program.

“We try to house inmates in a nearby county. But we have a policy – we try not to send them more than 200 miles,” Caldwell said.
Lomick said the jail also holds for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but they only hold them for a certain amount of time – 72 hours – before being transported to another facility.

Rural and smaller counties across North Carolina are experiencing similar cases of overcrowding, Lomick said.

Clay County Jail houses for other counties. Right now, they are holding for Macon County and they have one person for the Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Fund, according to Captain Shon Crisp, the jail supervisor.

In Cherokee County, the jail is holding 14 inmates from the Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Program. Cherokee County is also holding for Macon County as well, but they have also held inmates for Haywood, Johnson, Cleveland and Gaston due to overcrowding in those counties, Patterson said.

“If you look right now, a lot of the jails in the state are overcrowded. I’m not sure why, but it is becoming a bigger problem,” Johnson said.
Rural jails all over the state are becoming more and more overcrowded every day with jail populations higher than staff can maintain. Jail officials might be unclear on why this is happening, but holding inmates for other counties isn’t helping the issue.


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