HENDERSON — Prisoner welfare checks remain a problem for the Vance County Jail, which as of early June were sometimes occurring no more than about half the time state regulations say they should.
The latest inspection report of the jail from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said that “supervision rounds are not being conducted as required.”
A visiting inspector pulled the records for the June 6 set of inmate checks and found that “there were missed rounds at most locations at various times, with gaps between rounds being as much as one hour and 15 minutes.”
State regulations require jail administrators in all North Carolina counties to see to it that prisoners are checked at least twice an hour, with no more than 40 minutes elapsing between checks.
The welfare checks are supposed to reduce the chances of inmates dying or suffering serious injuries from suicide attempts, medical emergencies, fights or other causes.
Many jails in North Carolina have trouble meeting the twice-an-hour standard, and the Vance jail has been no exception.
It fell short on that score in two inspections conducted in the second half of 2021 — including on one triggered when the Vance County Sheriff’s Office reported that a prisoner, Dana Dorman, 60, had died of natural causes while being held in the jail’s “holding cell/drunk tank.”
That review found that on the day Dorman died, only one round of checks had been logged for nine of the 16 hours inspectors reviewed, and no checks at all were logged for six hours.
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Sheriff’s administrators after that inspection attributed the problem to staffing shortages. After the latest inspection, conducted on June 14, they responded that the jail’s staff has been instructed to “directly observe each inmate in person at least twice per hour on an irregular basis.”
“Those staff failing to make the required rounds are being held accountable,” they added.
But DHHS inspector Charles Brown reported that the prisoners aren’t exactly helping the cause. He found that some were hanging towels, sheets, blankets or jumpsuits around their bunks and from light fixtures, blocking guards from seeing what they were doing.
Sheriff Curtis Brame’s staff responded that prisoners have been told that’s against the rules, and that “inmates failing to comply are being held accountable.”
Brown’s report also touched on the physical condition of the jail. The inspector found lights and a shower that weren’t working, combustible materials stored in an electrical room, cracked security glass in a couple of the jail’s pods, a clothes dryer with “excessive lint buildup,” a damaged security ceiling in one dorm, and in four dorms locks that needed a key to open because remote-controls for them weren’t working.
Security cameras covering a hallway and two levels of a dorm were out of order, a hot-water pipe was being supported by a rope, and there were cleanliness issues involving vents, peeling paint, mold, graffiti and showers.
The sheriff’s office responded that fixes for those issues had been implemented or were in progress, though it might take weeks or months to deal with the camera and lock issues.
Contact Ray Gronberg at email@example.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.