This morning 549 people are waking up in the Durham County Jail, and about 90 percent of them—494—haven't been convicted of anything.
Worse yet, of those 494, many of them are cooling their heels in a cage because they can't afford to post bond.
Major Paul Martin of the Durham County Sheriff's Office threw out that troubling statistic last night at "Critical Community Conversations: The Police and Community Relations," moderated by Durham City Councilman Eddie Davis at the Holton Career & Resource Center. About 40 percent of those awaiting trial "could be released into the community without posing a threat," Martin said.
While the court system establishes general bond standards, judges do have leeway in setting the amounts.
For example, a man who ran over two people on Holloway Street was jailed on $500,000 bond, Martin said. "His mom called and asked, 'Cash or property?'" After his mother ponied up the bond, the man was free, awaiting trial.
"And we have people in jail, who have sat there for two to four years because the state has not tested the evidence," Martin said.
Nia Wilson of SpiritHouse noted that these inmates—innocent until proven guilty—are nonetheless subject to jail policies keeping them in their cells
up to 22 hours a day. "We've just contributed to the mental instability of these people."
The sheriff's office, which operates the jail, is establishing a "mental health pod," Martin said.
A recent Urban Institute study e
stimated that more than 60 percent of inmates in local jails have some form of mental illness.
Last night's public discussion tackled many criminal justice issues facing the city: Durham Police Department's future use of body cameras, the increase in DPD's probable cause searches and the general tensions between the cops and communities of color.
Durham City Council will discuss DPD's traffic stop data report
at Thursday's work session at 1 p.m.