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Dangerous Overcrowding, Deaths in NC Jails Paid by State Program

Disability Rights NC Uncovers Urgent Need for Legislative Fixes

For Immediate Release
August 16, 2021

Raleigh, NC – A new Disability Rights North Carolina report shows the Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Program (SMCP), administered by the NC Sheriffs’ Association, is financially rewarding some North Carolina sheriffs for operating overcrowded jails and creating well-documented safety violations and dangerous conditions for their staff and those in their custody.

The report comes as the NC House of Representatives and the NC Senate released their budgets, both bills including an expansion of the program through increased daily rates from $40 to $60 per person, per day for participating counties, setting the stage for increased dangerous overcrowding conditions and potential deaths. The increase would apply to counties that agree to use the people in this program to pick up highway litter.

The $22 million SMCP was created in 2012 to free up state prison beds that were being used by people convicted of misdemeanors.  In return for housing these people in local jails, counties receive state funds to participate in the voluntary program. However, following an extensive review of public records, DRNC found some counties have abused the program by overcrowding their jails, reaping thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars, despite ensuing safety violations, including deaths in overcrowded jails.

These are important issues for people with disabilities.  Although one in five people in the US has a disability, nearly two in five people (38 percent) who are incarcerated have a disability.  While unsafe conditions affect all people in jails, they can be particularly dangerous for individuals with physical, cognitive and mental health disabilities.

“These findings should be deeply concerning,” said DRNC attorney Luke Woollard.  “The conditions we found are extremely dangerous for all people in these overcrowded jails, staff and those housed in them, and we are especially concerned for the safety and well-being of people with disabilities in these jails.”

Findings include ineffective oversight of the program by the NC Sheriffs’ Association, and a state regulatory system that allows safety violations to go uncorrected for months, and in some cases, years, while some jails repeatedly continue to fail inspections.

DRNC is calling on the NC General Assembly to prohibit the Sheriffs’ Association and local sheriffs from overcrowding their jails through the SMCP, and provide stronger statutory tools to jail safety regulators that will require sheriffs to quickly address safety violations.

Now that both the NC House and Senate are seeking expansion of the program in their budgets, the urgency is even greater to address the dangerous overcrowding that is occurring in some of NC’s jails through the SCMP program.

“These provisions in the House and Senate bills took us by surprise,” Woollard said.  “If these unsafe conditions have been allowed to continue at $40 per day, per person in the program, we really fear that unless these issues are immediately addressed, increasing the daily rate to $60 will cause even more dangerous overcrowding. It runs a serious risk of significantly increasing the peril to the health, well-being and lives of disabled people, and all people, in jails that participate in this program.”

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About Disability Rights North Carolina
Disability Rights North Carolina is the federally mandated protection and advocacy system in North Carolina, dedicated to advancing the rights of all people with disabilities, of all ages, statewide. DRNC is an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a member of the National Disability Rights Network. Learn more about Disability Rights North Carolina at disabilityrightsnc.org.

Contact:
DRNC Attorney Luke Woollard, Criminal Justice Team, 919-856-2195, x211
luke.woollard@disabilityrightsnc.org

DRNC Supervising Attorney Susan Pollitt, Criminal Justice Team, 919-856-2195, x224
susan.pollitt@disabilityrightsnc.org

 

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