For more than a month,
demonstrators have picketed
every Friday at the Durham
County Detention Facility,
protesting new jail policies
that confine inmates to their cells
for 22 hours every day.
But on Monday, the Durham County
Sheriff’s Office, which operates the jail,
said the policy will continue, no matter
“Safety must be the primary driving
factor, safety for detainees as well
as detention officers and visitors,” said
Sheriff’s Office Maj. Paul Martin.
Until March, prisoners could walk the
jail’s common area for 50 hours per week,
or about seven hours a day. But Durham
County Sheriff Mike Andrews
to increasing violence and threats toward
jail officers—ordered new restrictions
limiting that time to two hours per day,
every other day.
“It’s degrading, it’s intimidating, it’s
oppressive,” said Cynthia Fox, whose
21-year-old son is incarcerated there.
Like Fox’s son, most of the 545 inmates
are awaiting trial. A
small number of prisoners
are serving short
sentences or are waiting
to be transferred to
Martin said the
changed its protocol
earlier this year after
it received information
that inmates were
planning assaults, although officials
did not say on whom. Martin says law
enforcement later found corroborating
evidence, although he declined to release
the source of that information.
There are more than 100 validated
gang members, 50 or more persons awaiting
trial for murder and approximately
100 detainees seeking mental health
treatment in the jail, Martin said.
Citing improving conditions,
Andrews—who could not be reached for
an interview—has gradually rolled back
the restrictions. In late April, he said prisoners
could leave their cells four days a
week, up from three. And last month, the
sheriff agreed to allow prisoners to leave
their cells for two hours each day.
That policy complies with state law,
which requires local jail inmates be
allowed to leave their cells at least three
days a week for one hour at a time.
But Fox said it’s unjust to enforce such
restrictions, considering many detainees,
like her son, have yet to be convicted of
“If they are going to punish people
who are causing trouble there, why not
punish those people instead of everybody?”
she said. “What happened to
innocent until proven guilty?”
Critics compare the policy to solitary
confinement, the controversial prison
practice sequestering an inmate for 23
hours a day.
Since the new policy went into effect,
there have been two attempted suicides
reported at the jail, although one immediately
followed an inmate’s sentencing.
In addition to asking for Andrews
to revoke the new policy, detainees’
families and the prisoners rights group
Inside- Outside Alliance, which shares
members with groups such as the Prison
Books Collective, is
calling for improved
inmate health services,
visitation and an
of the jail.
office has acknowledged
policy limits prisoners’
access to the jail’s
library, it claims the crackdown has not
affected visiting hours or any rehabilitation
programs or religious services there.
Inside Outside plans to protest Friday
at the jail, from 6–7 p.m., and at a June 8
budget public hearing before the Durham
County Board of Commissioners.