HILLSBOROUGH - Inmate numbers and maintenance issues are pushing Orange County toward building a new jail, justice officials said.
The need is not immediate but also cant be put off forever, Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass said.
County Manager Frank Clifton said the Council of State meets Sept. 11 to consider letting the county lease of seven to eight acres at the states Orange Correctional Center on Old N.C. 86.
Once that happens, the county can plan the kind of facility it needs, Pendergrass said. He recommended Aug. 30 that the Orange County Commissioners look at a 250-bed facility.
The existing jail, located in downtown Hillsborough, has several issues, from adequate space to the cost of providing mental and health care.
The jail also lacks a place for court officials and attorneys to talk with inmates about their cases, Chief District Court Judge Joe Buckner said.
The county jail was built in 1925 to house 38 inmates, and the interior was remodeled in 1980. Since 1982, the U.S. Marshals Office has paid for two major renovations, raising its capacity to 129 inmates.
The state Department of Health and Human Services inspects county jails bi-annually for issues, such as cleanliness, safety and fire procedures. On July 10, the inspector recorded 117 inmates, including 39 federal inmates. However, since 2007, the county has had issues with overcrowding. The jail exceeded capacity by an average of 21 inmates in most inspections since January 2009.
Pendergrass said during big events, such as UNC football games, or on busy court days, the jail can fill up quickly. It averages 150 to 170 inmates daily, including up to 75 federal inmates. In return, the federal government pays $1.8 to $2 million annually toward operating costs, he said.
We never know how many there are going to be, Pendergrass said.
The jail has four cellblocks, with a central monitoring station. Deputies watch video surveillance and physically check inmates every 15 minutes. There are 10 beds for women and 107 for men. Roughly eight of the 42 jail deputies work each 12-hour shift.
If the county eventually houses inmates serving two years or less, it might have to consider full-service options, such as pod systems and work farms, Buckner said. The commissioners also plan to look at more jail alternatives for some people, such as homeless repeat offenders.
The average daily cost is $64 per inmate, adding up to about $3.8 million a year, Buckner said. Medical care is a growing cost, especially for chronic substance abusers, he said. All 100 N.C. sheriffs and 97 jail administrators have identified mental illness as a top problem, he said.
Weve got about 30 or 40 people that are continuously brought into jail off the streets in Chapel Hill and Carrboro
they get down and out; they get all kinds of sickness, Pendergrass said. If we get them turned around, maybe when they go back on the street, theyll be alright.
Additionally, about 10 to 30 of more than 600 residents violate the terms of their probation at any one time and are jailed, Pendergrass said.
Another major issue is age-related maintenance and upkeep, said operations supervisor Lt. John Sellew. Its harder, for instance, to find replacement parts for a 32-year-old plumbing system, Pendergrass said.
Day to day, were trying to keep good, safe number that you can humanely handle in jail, Pendergrass said. I daresay nobody in this room appreciates detention officers more than Lindy. They do a good job keeping things calm up there.
Buckner said population growth and structured sentencing, which set tougher punishment guidelines in 1996, have funneled inmates into local jails. Legislators also mandated last year that local jails house inmates serving up to 180 days. The state Department of Corrections reimburses counties for inmates who serve 90 to 180 days.