Report says conditions at Meck County detention center putting inmates, staff at risk

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — Conditions at the Mecklenburg County Detention Center are putting inmates’ and staff members’ safety at risk, according to a new inspection report from the state’s department of health and human services.

The state also said more than 400 inmates need to be moved from the jail immediately.

The Dec 21. report found the detention center overcrowded and understaffed, posing an imminent threat to safety.

According to the report, there has been an increase in the number of incidents that have resulted in staff and inmates being hurt. It also said there have been delays in response times when handling those situations.

Channel 9′s Gina Esposito spoke to a current detention officer who asked not to be identified. They said someone is supposed to respond to an incident within a minute, but now, it could take up to six minutes.

“That’s with all emergency calls right now,” the officer said. “You will get attacked, you will be assaulted, you will have something thrown on you.”

The officer told Esposito the jail has become an unsafe place.

“They are leaving pods unattended with doors opened to the hall. And inmates have stated they can take over the jail any time they wanted to,” the officer said.

The officer said some staff are working 24 hours because they don’t have anyone to relieve them.

The sheriff’s office said it has been working to address the staffing shortage that it has faced for some time now. In December, the sheriff’s office moved staff members from the juvenile detention center to help at the main jail, but Esposito was told that was not enough.

“I believe two or three people came from the north. A lot of people knew how bad the conditions were at central and decided they weren’t going to come back,” the officer said.

The inspection report recommended removing at least 400 of the more than 1,400 inmates currently in the jail.

In a statement, the sheriff’s office said it is working to reduce the population inside the detention center and also working to transfer residents who have been sentenced to DPS facilities. They are identifying inmates who may be eligible for release and are looking to see if other counties can house residents from Mecklenburg County.

“We have been very transparent about the shortages facing the agency and we are exhausting all options to ensure the safety and security of MCDCC. These are unprecedented times. Our staff has worked through the COVID-19 pandemic since the beginning of 2020,” Sheriff Garry L. McFadden said. “They are fatigued, coping with loss due to the virus or battling the virus themselves while still fulfilling their duties at MCSO. We must take all of these factors into account, but we will not cease in our efforts to adequately operate our detention facility.”

While McFadden’s changes might help initially, the detention officer told Channel 9 they still have some long-term concerns.

“The issue is even if we do get rid of inmates, we are still going to lose people. You’re going to lose inmates, and that affects our funding, as well. Especially the federal inmates,” the officer said.

The sheriff’s office told Channel 9 that it would release concrete details on the reduction efforts.

Anchor Allison Latos has been checking with neighboring sheriffs offices to see if they have room for inmates being moved out of the Mecklenburg County jail. The Rowan, Union and Stanly county sheriffs said they can’t accept any inmates at this time. The Catawba County Sheriff said the county is helping and currently housing 15 inmates. Cabarrus and Iredell counties have not received any requests at this point.

Full statement from the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office:

“In response to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services preliminary report, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office is working to reduce the resident population inside the Mecklenburg County Detention Center - Central (MCDCC). We are currently working with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety on transferring residents that have been sentenced to DPS facilities. Furthermore, we will have discussions with the U.S. Marshals Service, District Attorney, Chief District Court Judge, and the Public Defender’s Office to identify defendants that may be eligible for release and have made a request to the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association to see if other counties may be able to house residents from Mecklenburg County.

“All these efforts are being made in response to Notice of Determination received by MCSO after an inspection by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services due to the current staffing shortage at MCDCC. MCSO had already begun to address staffing shortages at the largest municipal detention center in the state by reducing the juvenile population and reallocating personnel from the Mecklenburg County Juvenile Detention Center to the MCDCC. Mandatory overtime and reallocation of personnel from other divisions across the organization have all been implemented to address our staffing shortages.

“MCSO realizes that personnel are our greatest assets and without adequate personnel it makes an already high and difficult job even more difficult for our employees. This is a nationwide problem and we’re continually recruiting and hiring new personnel.

“The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office is committed to the safety of its staff and has been open to all suggestions for improvement. The reduction in population will allow the Detention Center to run at a more manageable level due to on-going staffing shortages and allows us the opportunity to continue to make changes throughout the facility.”

(WATCH BELOW: Nearly 2 dozen juvenile inmates being moved due to staffing shortages at detention center)