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Nash to upgrade county jail

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

In the wake of the most recent incident to draw attention to the Nash County Detention Center, Nash County officials are working to upgrade the facilities, but the planned projects may not be enough, Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone said Monday.

Last week, an inmate started a fire three times on a table in his cell using wires from the lighting fixtures, Stone said. And this is just the latest in a series of small fires that have been started in the facility in the past few months.

“I don’t know why inmates want to start these fires,” Stone said. “Some of these inmates are violent and some are mentally ill. The jail is not set up so that we have a way to isolate the prisoners when they are causing problems, so this inmate started the fires three times.”

These incidents put everyone at risk, Stone said.

“These fires are set in a crowded facility and this endangers the lives not only of the prisoners and staff members but also of the firefighters and emergency responders that come to the scene,” Stone said.

So far, the fires have been caught quickly with minimal damage and no injuries, but Stone said he feels that improvements in the facilities could help eliminate that danger.

Stone has noted the lack of upgraded facilities several times this year as six prisoners have already escaped in two separate jail breaks earlier this year. Several guards have been assaulted recently as well, Stone said, because the current system allows prisoners to be too close to guards. One was assaulted last week, he said.

These assaults create a high turnover rate for staff members at the Nash County Detention Center and that further exacerbates the problem, Stone said.

“These facilities were constructed decades ago with a more open plan at a time when we did not have the same kind of gangs and violent offenders we have today,” Stone said. “We have no lockdown facilities to secure prisoners who are violent, and we need more confined areas and more secure areas for solitary confinement.”

The Nash County Detention Center generally houses about 240 prisoners on any given day, Stone said, and more than 300 on heavy court days. After the last prison break, many of these prisoners were moved to other facilities for a time, but they are all back at the Detention Center now.

Many of these prisoners have access to one another and that encourages gang recruitment, Stone said.

“Our current situation helps facilitate gang involvement because prisoners who are not in gangs sometimes gravitate to gang members for protection,” Stone said.

Nash County commissioners have heard Stone’s plea for more funding over the past few months and have earmarked $550,000 for improvement to the jail over the next few months. The county already has spent more than $30,000 for repainting the facilities and are in the bidding process for security cameras that could cost up to $250,000, said Nash County Manager Zee Lamb. New fencing will cost roughly $80,000 and plumbing upgrades will likely eat up another $120,000.

Lamb said he hopes the security measures will be finished within a couple of months, but the plumbing upgrades will likely take longer.

While Stone said he is grateful for what is being done to upgrade the facilities, he feels that more changes need to be made to increase the safety of prisoners, staff members and the community.

“This is a great start, but my vision it to provide a more secure setting,” Stone said. “Nash County Chairman Robbie Davis is working tirelessly with me on this issue and I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he is trying to do.”

Stone said he hopes the improvements can be made without causing a tax increase.

“Taxpayers are the ones paying for this and they don’t want to pay more in taxes,” Stone said. “But I think taxpayers want to feel that their community is safe, too.”

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