WJTV News Channel 12 - Beaufort County Jail closure cost almost $40,000 and counting

Beaufort County Jail closure cost almost $40,000 and counting

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WASHINGTON, N.C. -

The Beaufort County jail is still closed.

On Tuesday, commissioners called a special meeting to update the public on what's going on with the jail.

Earlier this month, a dryer sparked a couple of power outages. The shut down forced the jail to shut down and move all the inmates to be other detention centers. County manager, Randell Woodruff said the closure has cost the county close to $40,000. Woodruff says a number that is expected to go up, since repairs will take 10-14 more days.

"We were hoping to announce today that we were ready to go back in the jail quite frankly, but we discovered that we have another electrical system within the system that we need to fix," said Beaufort Commissioner Hood Richardson.

For the detention center captain, Catrena Ross, it's not good news.

"It's going to put a big wrench in the plan. We're going to have to really tighten down the hatch again next week. I'm sure Captain Rose and them are going to have to be calling in deputies that off, just to come in and transport for us," said Ross.

For commissioners, deputies and taxpayers, it all means more unexpected costs, until the problems can be fixed.

 

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Criminals in Beaufort County are getting lower bonds and shorter jail stays.

It's putting them back on the streets faster than ever before, and those in charge are at odds over why or what to do about it.  

Days after a power outage and inmate evacuation, the Beaufort County Detention Center remains empty. But more issues surrounding it have surfaced.

Inmate records show on average, the 85-bed facility has been operating over-capacity for years. At times, the population has risen to more than 100.

"As a side effect, it means that perhaps people who should be in jail are getting reduced bonds and they're getting out on the street earlier," Sheriff Alan Jordan says.

He says it leads to more assaults, illnesses, and wear and tear on the 40-year-old detention center. He believes the solution is building a bigger jail.

"The facility is sub-par," Sheriff Jordan says. "It needs to be replaced."

He says it's more than a numbers game, as some inmates have to be separated from others. For example, the young from the old, the sick from the healthy and the violent from the nonviolent offenders.

But County Commissioner Hood Richardson says a bigger jail isn't the answer.

"Most of the commissioners see this as an efficiency problem," Richardson says. "And there are several alternatives other than building a new jail, and especially building the jail five miles from here with a gymnasium for deputies and new offices for deputies. It is still an ego trip on the sheriff's part."

Richardson says the backed-up court system and District Attorney Seth Edwards are to blame for overcrowding the jail and costing taxpayers more money.

"I'm accusing the district attorney of not trying cases in a timely manner," Richardson says.

"And a part of what goes on with this is to the district attorney's advantage to let somebody sit in jail until they're willing to plead to a lesser sentence because then he doesn't have to do a trial. That guy's lawyer doesn't have to do any work. This is a sweet system when you begin to see who benefits from that person sitting in jail for a while."

Edwards disputes that claim and says budget cuts mean he has to do more with less.

"Let me just say that one particular commissioner is a master of smoke and mirrors," Edwards says.

"And he is trying to put the blame on someone else instead of accepting the responsibility that he has as a county commissioner to provide an adequate jail facility for Beaufort County. So, by pointing the blame on the court system, or the sheriff, or the defense attorneys, he's getting the blame off of him and trying to put it on someone else."

So in this blame game, what is the solution?

Richardson says he wants to hire a liaison for the jail, clerk of courts and district attorney to expedite the process.

It's the taxpayers of Beaufort County that are paying all this money so we want this individual to report to the manager or whoever the manager wants to designate.

"That way, we've got some eyes and ears within the system," Richardson says.

"And some of these things that are going on – like people rotting in jail, and people being held in jail longer than they should be to try to get a plea out of them rather than a trial – some of those problems, we want them to go away."

It's a suggestion Sheriff Jordan says he would welcome – as long as that person works for him and not Richardson.

"Mr. Richardson, megalomaniac that he is, wants to be in charge of everything," he says. "He is not and never will be in charge of the sheriff."

Richardson met with two other commissioners and the county manager to talk about the potential liaison position Wednesday morning. Sheriff Jordan says he chose not to be there.

--- Previous Story ---

Power outages at the Beaufort County Detention Center have stirred up some  controversy between the county sheriff and a county commissioner over what to do with the aging facility.  

Two power outages in three days has led to an inmate evacuation and re-ignited the debate over a new jail.

Beaufort County Sheriff Alan Jordan said the 40-year-old jail is outdated, poorly designed and at times, unsafe for inmates and staff.
            
He said the recent electrical problems forced a potentially dangerous inmate evacuation and proved the jail is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

"Potentially dangerous people are coming out of this jail in a potentially uncontrolled situation. We don't have any perimeter. We don't have any secured yard in which to evacuate to. This is in downtown Washington where they may be coming to anybody's house," said Alan Jordan, Beaufort County Sheriff.

But building a new jail would cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
            
And it's a price county commissioner Hood Richardson said he's not willing to pay.

"The sheriff is playing an emotional issue to try to Shanghai the taxpayers of Beaufort County into building him a new jail. Because that feeds his enormous ego. That's all I have to say," said Hood Richardson, Beaufort County Commissioner.

"When the inevitable occurs, I want to be on record saying that me and my folks stood where we should stand, we stood in a righteous place. If he wants to think it's about ego, fine," said Jordan.

Sheriff Jordan said a new jail would cost millions of dollars, but would be worth the investment. 

Richardson said it would be cheaper to fix current problems in the existing jail and pay to house inmates at other detention centers.

--- Original Story ---

The Beauford County Detention Center is closed has until further notice due to a loss of power.

Officials said it's the second electrical failure in three days.

On June 8 around 9:40 a power surge shut down power to the Beaufort County Courthouse and Detention Center. At that time, an auxiliary generator activated, restoring power to the facility. But 15 minutes later, an electrical malfunction in the Detention Center's wiring tripped a breaker. The Detention Center lost power again even with the generator functioning. Smoke was detected during the second power loss.

Emergency crews responded to the scene and all 67 inmates were taken to other facilities in eastern North Carolina. Inmates won't return to the facility until the source of the electrical problems is identified and fixed.

 

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