The issue of the lack of jail space is one that affects other areas of concern throughout the county. Having worked in one of the largest jail systems in the United States for over 30 years, this is an area in which I have a great deal of experience and expertise.
I have visited the current jail in Haywood County on field trips twice since moving here, and have spoken at length with the current (and soon retiring) Sheriff, as well as his administrators during my visits.
The county desperately needs to expand its jail capacity. On an every day basis, jail operators are exceeding the maximum capacity limits by 20-40%. It has gotten to the point where female inmates are being housed in an old adjacent building that under normal circumstances would have been deemed a fire hazard not suitable for housing of inmates. Because of necessary concessions, extra staff has to be deployed to oversee this unsafe building.
The Sheriff has told me that on most mornings he has to call around the state to Sheriffs of other counties to ask about available bed space for our inmates. If by chance there are openings, the Haywood County taxpayer pays for the transport of the outgoing inmate as well as the housing and medical expenses of the outgoing inmate incurred at the out-of-county facility.
Furthermore, every time a deputy has to be called upon to make such a transport, this results in one less deputy being on patrol watching for crime in our area.
The lack of jail space has been a part of the problem that critics refer to as “catch and release” policing-when there is simply not enough space to house more people, newly arrested people are let out within hours of being booked, if that long. It creates a revolving door system that fails to serve the community well.
Excuses made by county elected officials revolve around complaints about costs, and the influence of certain groups advocating for “no new jails.” Recently the county manager reported that the holdup was waiting on the results of some environmental soil samples, as well as trying to get a 100 ft. right of way clearance from the nearby railroad.
Has anyone considered locating the jail annex some other place, or reconfiguring the architectural design as to not need the right of way? It seems to me that current officials have not pressed the issue nearly hard enough to get the ball rolling on this much needed public safety project.