Durham HRC Will Present Jail Report to Sheriff Tonight | News

Durham HRC Will Present Jail Report to Sheriff Tonight

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The Durham Human Relations Commission is presenting the final version of its review of the Durham County Detention Facility to Sheriff Mike Andrews and members of his staff tonight.

The commission drafted the report in January and updated it in March. Although Andrews (and other local officials) have seen the report, Commission chairwoman Diane Standaert said tonight will mark the first direct discussion of the final draft between the HRC and the Sheriff's Office.

Andrews invited HRC members to discuss the report, which makes ten recommendations about practices at the jail and for people awaiting trial in Durham County, with him and his command staff.

“As an elected official, I’ve always believed it’s my responsibility to listen to the community. My invitation to the City of Durham’s Human Relations Commission is an example of my commitment to the community I serve and protect," Andrews said in an emailed statement.

The meeting will not be open to the public. Standaert, at an HRC meeting Tuesday night, said the group will be asking the Sheriff's Office for support for the recommendations, a public presentation of the report, and a follow-up meeting.

HRC members started working on the report shortly after Matthew McCain, twenty-nine, was found dead in a jail cell in January 2016. Members of the commission held a public forum, received letters from ninety-four people detained at the jail, and visited the facility at Andrews' invitation.

Two commission members, Ricky Hart and Richard Ford, voted not to endorse the document.
Durham County Detention Facility - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE
  • Photo by Jeremy M. Lange
  • Durham County Detention Facility

It's a bit ironic that the meeting is being held behind closed doors, since four of the ten recommendations deal with transparency. For example, one recommendation asks that a community-based research team be allowed to survey inmates and staff. This request stemmed from a proposal by the Durham Jail Investigation Team, which disbanded in May.

"The Sheriff extended an invitation to the HRC to share its presentation focused on its list of recommendations," said spokeswoman Tamara Gibbs, when asked why the meeting was not open to the public. "It’s his understanding the HRC has already shared its list of recommendations with the public and the news media. "

The HRC also advised against a shift to video-only visitation at the jail.

The jail is working to roll out a pilot video-visitation program. Gibbs told the INDY last month that Andrews has no plans to eliminate in-person visits but stopped short of the kind of guarantee sought by local activists.

"As of today, right now, there are no plans to remove in-person visitation," she said "We might find that people like the convenience of video visitation. I think it's unfair to come to a conclusion that we haven't come to yet." (Andrews told the Herald-Sun that in-person visits will continue as long as he is sheriff).

Another recommendation seeks an end to the cash bail system. According to the report, 75 percent of detainees in 2015 were black, and 73 percent of those held under a $5,000 bond or less were black.

"What is happening in Durham is intertwined with the history and consequences of mass incarceration," the report says. "In our investigation, we can see the trends present right here in our own community, particularly the racial disparities, the number of people in jail for low-level offenses, the incarceration of poor people unable to post bond, and the increasing role of private companies profiting from putting people in our jail. Durham is situated however to mitigate the impacts of incarceration on our community."



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