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As another contract for housing inmates was approved by Halifax County Commissioners Monday, the board will also send a request for $20 million to its state legislative delegation for a new or renovated detention center.

The decision to solicit funds from the state came later in the meeting after the board approved an earlier request for an interlocal agreement from the sheriff’s office to house inmates in Wayne County.

Last month the board included in its federal legislative goals a request for $23,600,000, of which $20 million is slated for expansion and renovation of the facility.

Interlocal agreement

Lieutenant Shane Guyant of the sheriff’s office presented the interlocal agreement to the board. “We, just as well as every other county in the state, struggle to have inmate transfers because of space and cap space in our detention center.”

Guyant said sheriff’s office officials have reached out to the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, which provided the local office with the interlocal agreement. 

The interlocal agreement notes that the county detention center is over-capacity and that Wayne County has agreed to accept, detain and care for additional inmates from Halifax County.

The county would pay Wayne County $50 per day per inmate. The Halifax County Sheriff’s Office would be responsible for the transport of the inmates to and from Wayne County.

Wayne County is the latest detention center to house Halifax County inmates. “We deal with quite a few people,” Guyant said, referring to detention centers outside Halifax County. “This is the only one I’ve actually seen (with an interlocal agreement). We do have to seek other venues other than just Northampton.”

Commissioner Linda Brewer made the motion to enter into the agreement with Wayne County with a second cast by Sammy Webb, who later in the meeting would suggest soliciting the county’s state legislative delegation. The motion passed unanimously.

Webb comments

During the portion of the meeting slated for other business, Webb said he and Halifax County Superior Court Judge Brenda G. Branch took a tour of the jail last month with Sheriff Tyree Davis and Jail Administrator Scott Hall. “We stayed there for about two-and-a-half hours.”

On the Friday of the tour Webb said there were 101 inmates incarcerated there. “We only have the capacity for 85. Of that capacity you only have capacity for eight females. There were 17 females housed in our jail. Nine of those were sleeping on mats. They had to get mats from other facilities in order for these inmates to sleep.”

Webb said there were 35 other inmates housed throughout the state at $50 per day. Those inmates were spread out among Edgecombe, Nash, Lenoir, Craven, Robeson, Sampson, Dare, Warren, and Franklin. “And now we’re adding Wayne County to house these inmates. They have three transport officers and these three officers have to transport these inmates to and from court, safe-keeping to Central Prison and to involuntary commitment for mental health purposes.”

Within the county detention center, Webb said, there is a portion designed to hold violent inmates or people with other, more serious issues. “That portion of the jail is called ‘single cell.’ That’s where our mental health people are housed at. You go to that area there’s feces, urine, flies and that smell goes from (the tunnel to the courtroom). That smell is in the area where probation officers are, behind courtroom number 2, superior courtroom 1 and also the attorney’s lounge.”

Webb said the sheriff’s office officials told him the county is spending about a half-million dollars a year on housing inmates. “This does not include repair and maintenance on vehicles, gasoline and fuel to put in the vehicles. It also does not include the number of man hours being spent on the housing and bringing inmates to and from court.”

He said sheriff’s office investigators are crammed together in one room. The interview room, he said, is the size of a small closet. “The captain of the patrol (division) has an office and his is the size of a small closet. The window in the hallway does not close nor shut. The jail administrator’s office is about the size of a small closet.”

Webb said he and Branch observed jail cells that do not close which is a safety issue. “There’s a shower that constantly runs. The plumbing is outdated. There are lavatories in the cells that do not work. There’s mold in the jail. There’s a leak in the ceiling toward the kitchen area.”

When people are put on probation for DWI sometimes those offenders are ordered to do seven days or 30 days in jail with the court allowing them to keep their jobs under orders they report to the jail. “Because of the overcrowding, these individuals are turned away. They can’t fulfill their obligation for probation.”

Inmates housed outside Halifax County, Webb said, have limited access to their families and their loved ones as well as their attorneys. 

Trash cans behind the jail are easy targets for people wanting to drop off contraband for inmates. “There should be a security gate,” Webb said, where now there is only a sign that says do not enter.

Inmates have attempted to run when being brought to the jail, going to a ravine behind the facility.”

Doubts about federal funding

Webb said his concern is he doesn’t believe United States Congressman Don Davis is going to be able to get the county $20 million for a new or renovated jail. “I don’t want to raise taxes and I’m not going to raise taxes but this issue is so serious. We need to find another way to build this jail because every day we wait, we're spending money and sooner or later we’re going to have to face the fact that we’ve got to build a jail.”

Webb said the county needs to build a jail that will house at least 200 inmates “and if we have 50 spaces available left we, in turn, can charge other counties to house inmates here and we get that fifty dollars.”

That’s when Webb suggested reaching out to state Senator Bobby Hanig and state Representative Michael Wray to see whether the county can get an appropriation that doesn’t fall on the taxpayers of Halifax County. “Sooner or later, if we don’t do anything, this is going to fall on the taxpayers of Halifax County. I think we should seek these resources, figure out what it’s going to take, build a detention center and seek funding from federal sources, state sources. We don’t have to raise taxes on the citizens of Halifax County.”

Commissioner comments

Commissioner Chenoa Richardson Davis said Webb’s report highlighted the need that something has to be done. “I’m sure eventually we’re going to be fined.”

Commissioner Carolyn Johnson said the board has done things to prepare for a new jail. “The thing that’s an issue is not just a new jail, but it’s also mental health. Because we have that issue we have had the sheriff and a lot of other people come together as a way to look at that. I think we’re very aware that something has to be done, something needs to be done but it’s not that we were not aware of the situation and circumstances.”

Johnson said she doesn’t believe the board has been complacent on the issue. “I think we’re just trying to find some funding.”

Board Chair Vernon Bryant said, “I think we’re looking at other sources other than Congressman Davis. I think that what you said is correct, certainly what Ms. Johnson said is on point.”

Bryant said, “The General Assembly is going to help us a lot with the courthouse – the third floor and also the first and second floor and the sheriff’s department — not the jail but the sheriff’s department and they’re going to spend quite a bit of money on that – anywhere from $12 to $14 million.”

The chairman said, however, “If the board so chooses we can send a letter or request to Representative Michael Wray and Senator Bobby Hanig and ask them to try and approve that.”

Bryant said the county’s maintenance and operations department has helped out repairing issues at the jail. “We’ve been written up a bunch of times for that jail — ever since I’ve been a county commissioner and prior to me coming here we’ve got written up for things. This board has been real proactive about doing a lot of things – not just the jail but a lot of other things. We’re just so far behind the eightball with so many things.”

Webb made the motion to proceed with contacting Hanig and Wray on a second by Davis. The motion passed unanimously.