by: Sarah Rosario Updated:
IREDELL COUNTY, N.C. - Iredell County commissioners are considering letting inmates out of jail early to free up space at the jail.
Commissioners said overcrowding has been an issue for years, as well as safety concerns.
Eyewitness News toured the jail and saw rooms packed and inmates sleeping on the floor.
Jail supervisor Capt. Bert Connelly said it's so bad that state inspectors have cited them for years for not having enough space.
"Almost all of our inspections we've been cited for the overcrowding issue and the classification issue due to bed space," he said.
Connelly said a new jail has been needed for nearly eight years.
The current facility holds 201 people and he said at one point, there were more than 100 people sleeping on the floor.
Commissioners agreed a new jail is needed but in the meantime they're considering allowing inmates with non-violent charges out of jail early.
Connelly said most inmates in the jail are being held on pre-trail charges.
He said letting the ones with non-violent misdemeanor charges out early is something the county has tried but doesn't work.
"We've had a pre-trial release program before,” Connelly said. “We've put GPS bracelets on individuals and our success rate is not the best in the world. We have a little more than 50 percent of those subjects return to jail.”
"I want to say upfront I'm highly skeptical of that,” Commissioner Steve Johnson said. “But I am willing to look at it."
Johnson said another option is renting more space from Rowan County's jail.
The county is under a contract to rent 40 beds.
There are 70 more inmates housed at a jail annex 5 miles away on Turnesburg Highway in Statesville.
Commissioners said the annex, built in the 1930s, has an inadequate septic system and is expensive.
"It's costing us about a quarter of $1 million per year to have a contractor come in here and pump all the sewage off site," said Connelly.
The estimated cost to build a new jail is $23 million.
The county already has $12 million for the project but will have to find a way to pay for the rest.
"What we're paying out to another county, combined with what we're paying for the contracted sewer removal, we'd be able to pay the debt service on a new facility" said Connelly.
Commissioners will meet at the end of the month to talk about options.
They're hoping to make a decision by the fall.
Once final plans were approved, commissioners said building a jail would take nearly two-and-a-half years.
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