How to request NC jail public records


Obtaining and analyzing public records can be vital to identifying serious safety concerns in jails.  The documents listed below are all public records available by request that can help to identify issues in jails which are often not otherwise apparent to the public given the security measures in place at jail facilities.  Biannual Inspection Reports, Local Confinement Reports, and Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Program Reports are all public record documents created in the course of required jail inspections and reporting.  The other documents listed are also public records, but are created as the result of a death in a facility.

Biannual Inspection Reports

These are the reports created from the twice-yearly inspections of every jail across the state performed by jail inspectors from the Division of Health Service Regulation (DHSR), a division of NC DHHS.  The reports will cite jails for failure to maintain compliance with the Jail Rules[1]. The Rules combine building code, fire code, and health code regulations along with supervision, population, and healthcare requirements.  These reports can help to identify problems in the jail, including serious safety issues like supervision failures and overcrowding.  If a jail is cited for non-compliance with the Jail Rules, they must submit a Plan of Correction outlining how they have fixed or will fix the cited issue.  DHSR can then either accept or deny the proposed correction.  If DHSR decides that the jail conditions are dangerous to the jail population and/or jail staff, the DHHS Secretary can order the jail closed (although this is exceedingly rare).  The Plans of Correction, along with any correspondence between DHSR and the jail as well as the notes and photos that sometimes accompany these reports are also public record.

These documents can help to

  • Identify issues within the jail, including serious safety issues
  • Track chronic problems over time
  • Provide evidence that the Sheriff/jail administrator was aware of a safety issue

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  • Completed twice yearly, usually at the same time of year for each facility

Local Confinement Reports

These are daily population counts at each detention facility in North Carolina.  They are filled out by each facility and submitted to DHSR monthly.  The report includes a count of admissions and exits, daily population, population changes over the month, and some information about the jail population by race.  Because there are different male and female population limits in each facility, the daily population counts in the Local Confinement Reports list male and female populations.  In addition to the daily population, these forms also include an “Average Daily Population” for the entire month.  DHSR compiles these averages for each month for every jail in the state in their “Confinement Report”, which is also a public record.

These records can help to

  • Track overcrowding in jails
  • Track whether the jail is renting out beds to the Federal government
  • Find if the jail was overcrowded on a particular day that a death or injury may have occurred

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  • Submitted monthly to DHSR by each jail facility

Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Reports

These monthly reports track the amount of money disbursed to each jail for housing out-of-county misdemeanants pursuant to the Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Program[2] (SMCP).  Jails that house people in the SMCP receive a daily financial reimbursement for doing so.  The monthly report includes the population and total capacity of the program, and shows the amount of money given to each county/Jail for housing, medical care, and transportation of SMCP enrollees.  The NC Sheriff’s Association, which receives funds to administer the SMCP, submits these monthly reports to the Legislature.

This record can help to

  • Determine if a jail is increasing their population by participating in the SMCP despite being overcrowded and/or understaffed, creating dangerous conditions

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  • Filed monthly by the NC Sheriff’s Association

Documents Related to the Death of a Person in the Custody of a NC Jail

Report of Inmate Death

This short form is filled out by the jail whenever there is a death in custody.  By statute, “in custody” is defined as someone in the custody of the jail regardless of location – meaning that someone who was sent to an outside facility or hospital and dies should still be reported as an “in-custody” death.  It includes basic identifying information, trial status of the deceased, and some information about the circumstances surrounding the death, including last supervision rounds, type of death, and time of death.  It also includes the date the person was admitted to the facility.  The report must be submitted to DHSR within five days of a death in custody, and so is one of the first documents created when a person dies in a detention facility[3].

This document can help to

  • Identify people who have died in custody
  • Provide some indication as to supervision of the deceased
  • Identify if the person was pre- or post-trial

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  • Submitted by the jail within 5 days of death

Report of Investigation by NC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (ME)

This is the initial report performed by the medical examiner[4].  It is supposed to happen quickly after the death, and unless there are extenuating circumstances the body should not be moved before the ME can assess the deceased.  The report includes identifying information, probable cause of death, a timeline, and basic medical information.  Perhaps most useful is the narrative section of this report, which can contain important information on the circumstances surrounding the death.

This document can help to

  • Determine the circumstances surrounding the death
  • Determine the medical interventions attempted prior to death
  • Determine the deceased’s medical history and potential cause of death

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  • NC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, most documents can be requested online at
  • NC DHSR will sometimes also have a copy of this form


  • ME Investigation report is often complete within 14 days of the initial examination

DHSR Death Compliance Investigation

This compliance investigation is performed by DHSR, usually within a few weeks of the death.  It covers the same compliance areas and uses the same forms and process as the biannual inspections.  These reports will contain any citations for failure to follow the Jail Rules in the time surrounding a death in a jail.  If cited, a jail must submit a Plan of Correction to remedy any compliance issues, which DHSR can accept or reject.  These reports contain useful information about non-compliance with safety standards around the time of death.  However, inspection reports will not comment on whether those compliance failures were a proximate cause of the death.  There are often corresponding documents that go along with these report forms that can include inspector notes, shift logs, and medical documents. While the medical documents are often redacted under HIPPA, these secondary materials (sometimes called a “field file”) can be extremely useful and should be requested along with the report form and any proposed Plans of Correction, which can sometimes include self-reported staffing or overcrowding issues.

This document can help to

  • Further understand the circumstances surrounding a death
  • Determine whether proper medical/mental health screening was performed
  • Identity any supervision failures or other safety issues that could have created an unsafe environment prior to the death

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  • Inspection performed within a few weeks of death

NC Office of Chief Medical Examiner’s (OCME) Autopsy

Autopsies are performed by Medical Examiners soon after the death, however the official autopsy report can take up to a year to be released by the OCME.  While deaths in custody often result in an autopsy, there is no statutory requirement that an autopsy be performed[5]. Autopsies will include valuable medical history and information, including an official cause of death.  It will also include the results of any toxicology tests performed post-mortem.  Toxicology results alone can also be requested through the OCME office. Autopsies also include a narrative section that can have details of the circumstances surrounding the death.

This document can help to

  • Identify cause of death
  • Often required to determine if overdose, withdrawal or suicide was the cause of death
  • Determine person’s medical history and compliance with any medications
  • Determine the circumstances surrounding the death

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  • Autopsy report can take up to a year to be filed but is usually available sooner

[1] Jail Rules can be found at 10A NCAC 14J.  Rules outlining DHSR inspection authority and process can be found at N.C.G.S. § 153A-220 through 225 and 10A NCAC 14J Section .1300.

[2] Statues creating and outlining the operation of the SMCP can be found at N.C.G.S. § 148-32.1, 10.4

[3] See N.C.G.S. §153A-225(b) for statutory death reporting requirements

[4] For statutory authority and requirements for the Report of Investigation, see N.C.G.S. § 130A-383, 384

[5] For statutory authority and regulations regarding autopsies, see N.C.G.S. §130A-389, 390