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The County Jail

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By manalk, on June 22, 2011

One of the highlights of this past week was a guided tour of the Wake County Public Safety Center. Ryan Davidson, a UNC MPA alum who works for the Sheriff’s Office, had graciously offered to help organize this tour several weeks ago, and on Friday I finally had the opportunity to accompany Lieutenant Bailey-Lee around the building.

The Public Safety Center is a formidable looking building across from the Wake County Courthouse (and the Administration Building, where I work) in downtown Raleigh. The Center houses the City-County Bureau of Identification, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), the Sheriff’s office, and the detention center, among other things. This particular tour primarily focused on the majority of the building that makes up the detention center/county jail.

Several years ago, I had toured a maximum security women’s prison in NC, so I already had an idea of how a prison is laid out and managed. However, before Friday I had never consciously thought about the steps involved in getting into prison, and especially the role of county jails. It was therefore particularly interesting (albeit uncomfortable at times) not only to walk through the detention center, but to understand how everything fit into the larger criminal justice system.

On the ground floor, we walked through the rooms used to process newly arrested individuals, search them before issuing jail clothes, put them in touch with magistrates for bail information, and finally hold them until they can be taken to the upper levels (adult men) or transferred to the annex detention center a few miles away (juveniles and women) if they are unable to post bond and leave.

The upper levels of the detention center hold inmates while they are waiting for trial or if they are serving sentences of less than one year. On some floors, inmates were seen lying on the floor in some of the ‘pods’ containing jail cells, and this was attributed to the exploding population growth in the county in the past decade or so. The county is currently building a new facility to house overflow inmates.

One upper level floor that we visited did not have inmate residential units. Instead, this floor contained a laundry room where a few inmates were doing laundry duty, and a medical suite containing offices for doctors, psychiatrists, nurses and other health care staff working with inmates. Soon after an inmate has been booked into the facility, he is taken to the medical staff for a thorough examination. Medical personnel work with inmates to ensure that they have access to any medication that they may require, and that they are generally healthy. This is particularly important because, as a nurse pointed out, more than 50-60% of inmates coming into the facility can have mental health issues and it is imperative for everyone’s safety that they are treated appropriately.

I was reminded of this part of my tour when I heard that a North Carolina man had robbed a bank for $1 in order to get free health care in prison. I am not sure what this man’s exact circumstances were, but after this tour I am convinced that for all its ‘perks’, going to a real jail would be just as unpleasant as going to jail on a Monopoly board.

Thanks for reading!

Still Not Fun
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3 Responses to “The County Jail”

  1. Mike Smith


    I used to work with counties on legal issues arising out of jail operations. You have seen a slice of our culture that very few people know anything about. It is an important county responsibility and I’m glad that you chose to blog about it. It sounds like you are having a great summer.


  2. Trino

    Good story to read,
    To see the pictures and the story it appears that this is very good management of jail. cleanliness in the prison looks very good.
    Prisoners very good mental therapy assisted by medical staff, doctors including medicinal drugs provided in prison. above article is an inspiration to other countries with good prison management to manage and properly

  3. Audria Duka

    Spot on with this write-up, I truly think this website needs much more consideration. I?ll probably be again to read much more, thanks for that info.

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