Safety, security issues addressed at jail annex
A recently approved project at the Haywood County jail annex will address some security and safety issues for inmates, jailers and staff.
County commissioners and the sheriff were forced to make changes at the annex following a regular jail inspection by the N.C. Division of Health and Service Regulation earlier this year.
The first portion of the project will involve defining an “area of refuge” for staff and inmates in case of a fire or other emergency in the building.
“The area of refuge is to allow inmates and staff to be in a safe place beyond the building, which the minimum requirement is 50 feet, confined within the fenced area with razor wire on top of it,” said Dale Burris, facilities and maintenance director for the county.
A sidewalk will be built according to American with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards to define the area of refuge and about 140 feet of secure fence with razor wire on top will be built 50 feet from the back of the building.
The annex is considered “free egress” for inmates, which means inmates are able to freely walk around the building and may walk outside into a secured courtyard at-will. Because of this, the doors cannot have the ability to lock inmates inside the building.
To solve this problem, delayed panic devices will be installed on each door, which can be set to sound an alarm when the door is opened.
“Because of the design of this facility, we can’t stop the inmates from going into the day area, but we can restrict that to the point that jailers are notified when they go out,” Burris said.
The alarm will help with a current security issue at the annex, which resulted in at least one escape in May when only women were housed in the facility.
Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher said Racheal Rowe managed to escape the annex when another female inmate boosted her onto the roof from the outside day area and another woman created a diversion inside the facility. Rowe was located and apprehended shortly thereafter and extra razor wire was placed along the roof to prevent another escape, Christopher said.
The annex is now a male-only facility and the sheriff only allows low-flight risk misdemeanants to be housed there. Usually, the annex inmates are serving time for offenses such as failure to pay child support and are often part of the community service and trash pickup crews, Christopher said. As of Monday, there were 22 inmates at the annex.
The alarm-activated doors will allow jail staff to always know where the inmates are.
“If someone goes out of those doors there is going to be an alarm that goes off. It’s going to let us know that they are going out into the courtyard and into that backyard, which it doesn’t do now,” he said.
There will be two new doors installed and delayed egress devices installed on two existing doors.
County leaders and the sheriff are also looking into the possibility of reopening the old N.C. Department of Correction next to the existing jail, which the county purchased from the state for $1.
However, to house inmates in the old building, the county will be required to make sure the building complies with the rules and regulations of North Carolina jail standards rather than the N.C. Department of Correction standards under which it was originally built.
The Department of Health and Human Services has been working on a feasibility study to analyze how much it would cost the county to bring it to correct standards and house inmates at the old Department of Correction building.
However, the changes at the annex must be made now in order to keep it open while the study is still being completed.
“If it had not been addressed now, the inspector would have closed the annex and I would have had to house our inmates in other counties and right now that costs between $30 and $40 a day per inmate to house them.”
State Building Group, formerly Murray Construction, was awarded the project, which will cost about $91,000. County commissioners approved a budget amendment to move about $26,000 extra funds found in the facilities and maintenance budget to fund the amount of the project that was over the intended budget.
Burris said construction on the 90-day project could begin as early as November and the first pre-construction meeting is scheduled for Oct. 11.
The sidewalk and secured fence will be installed before any interior work begins, he said.
During the construction phase, the sheriff will use a different plan to allow inmates to be securely removed from the facility in case of an emergency.