Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office Says Work To Reduce Prison Population After State Inspection Reveals “Significant Safety Concerns Over Staff Shortages”, Some Due To COVID Outbreaks -19 which sickened some 81 workers and more than a quarter of the detainees.
The Dec. 21 inspection by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services found conditions in the downtown detention center did not meet “some of the minimum standards” for containment facilities in the city. state, compromising the “safe custody, safety, health and well-being” of inmates and staff.
The agency called for a massive reduction in the prison population to improve general conditions.
Staff shortages will continue and possibly increase due to the number of inmates housed at the prison, according to the preliminary report. The prison had 1,407 inmates as of December 21, according to the report.
It is not known how many prison jobs are vacant.
Sheriff spokeswoman Janet Parker last month told The Observer that 141 or the total 470 positions in the prison were unfilled, a 30% vacancy rate.
The Observer requested an updated number from the sheriff’s office on Monday afternoon, but did not get a response in time for this story.
To deal with the shortages, the NCDHHS said the prison should immediately depopulate the upscale prison to a level that can be managed by its available staff. In a Dec. 23 letter to the prison, Chief Prison Inspector Chris Wood recommended a prison population of less than 1,000 inmates, which means a reduction of almost 30% or more from the current population.
In a statement that included the state’s findings, the sheriff’s office said it was working to resolve the issues raised by the inspection:
▪ Inmates who have been sentenced may be transferred to the facilities of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.
▪ Work with the US Marshals Service, the Mecklenburg District Attorney, the District Court Chief Justice, and the Public Defender’s Office to identify detainees who may be released.
▪ Requests have also been made to the NC Sheriff’s Association to see if other counties might be able to house detainees from Mecklenburg.
To address staff shortages, the sheriff’s office announced last month that it would move 23 juvenile inmates from its north Charlotte facility to other counties. Prison staff would then be reassigned to upscale neighborhoods, the Observer previously reported.
Mandatory overtime and reassignment of staff from other divisions have also been implemented, according to the sheriff’s office.
“We have been very transparent about the shortages the agency faces and we are exhausting all options to ensure the safety and security of MCDCC,” Sheriff Garry McFadden said in the statement. “These are unprecedented moments.”
The state inspection also found that the prison could not safely evacuate inmates from the facility in an emergency.
An increase in the number of violent incidents resulting in injuries to staff and inmates is another key finding, according to the report. Due to the lack of personnel, incidents took longer to control. In one case, medical treatment for an injured staff member was delayed, the report said.
“Our staff have worked during the COVID-19 pandemic since the start of 2020,” McFadden said in the statement. “They are tired, dealing with losses from the virus, or struggling with the virus themselves while performing their duties at MCSO. We have to take all of these factors into account, but we will not stop our efforts to make our detention center function properly. “
County officials tried to reduce the prison population at the start of the pandemic, but were unsuccessful. Whatever cuts they made were overturned by county-wide arrests and the large number of federal inmates being held at the facility.
Ongoing issues at Meck Prison
The findings of the NCDHSS preliminary report are not the first to raise security concerns at Mecklenburg County Jail.
Government documents obtained by The Charlotte Observer in September showed the downtown facility violated state regulations designed to keep prisoners safe in the back-to-back deaths of two inmates last spring:
▪ Karon Golightly of Gastonia passed away on the morning of May 14. Eight months later, the cause of his death remains “undetermined,” according to the state’s medical examiner’s office. The State Investigation Bureau continues to review the case.
▪ On May 22, John Devin Haley of Charlotte, 41, was found hanged under his cell window with a band of blanket tied around his neck. Haley had a history of drug addiction and mental health issues when he entered jail on April 3 and was temporarily placed on suicide watch, jail records show.
In North Carolina, jailers are required to observe each inmate “at least twice an hour on an irregular basis, with no more than 40 minutes between rounds,” according to state regulation.
This standard was repeatedly violated in the hours leading up to Golightly and Haley’s deaths, NCDHHS investigators have found.
It is not known how personnel issues may have contributed to the prison’s failure to make the required patrols in inmate cells. McFadden declined multiple Observer requests for comment, citing SBI probes.
Last month, McFadden admitted to WCNC that it did not have the staff to meet the state’s minimum supervisory standards.
The deaths of Golightly and Haley are part of a series of crises that rocked the prison in 2021, including another death and a resurgent coronavirus that sickened dozens of inmates in late August.
Two weeks after Haley’s death, custodial officer Kyle Harris was charged with sexually assaulting a transgender inmate. The sheriff’s office also fired several others, including one accused of fighting with an inmate.
In late September, a detention officer was fired and arrested after McFadden said she had sex with an inmate.
Several prison workers were also injured after being assaulted by inmates.
The local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police called for an independent investigation last month, according to WCNC.
This story was originally published 3 January 2022 6:55 pm.