Nash County jail ‘still isn’t safe enough’ despite thousands spent on upgrades, sheriff says

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ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. (WNCN) — The Nash County Sheriff says thousands of dollars have been spent on painting, plumbing and adding new light fixtures to the county’s jail, but feels the facility still isn’t safe enough.

After multiple inmates escaped and other set fires in the jail in 2019, state regulators ordered the county to address a list of more than 25 issues such as repairing the smoke evacuation system, fixing blocked exits, addressing staffing shortages, and improving supervision of inmates.

“That stuff was taken care of immediately,” said Sheriff Keith Stone.

Stone says fresh paint doesn’t fix the larger safety issues, saying the jail is outdated and no longer serves the needs of the community.

Sheriff Stone and Major Miste Strickland took CBS 17 on a tour of the jail Monday, highlighting repairs that were made, and pointing out areas of concern.

“We can’t put inmates in here. It’s a hazard for everyone. Painting over rust does not fix this issue. All that is cosmetic,” said Strickland.

Strickland says one of her major concerns is the overall operational flow and design of the jail, which was originally built in 1976. She says the facility is not up to current safety standards.

“The bare minimum code for the ’70s is what we are operating off of. We’re grandfathered in, but it’s life safety issues that should be brought up to the standard of 2020,” she said.

Stone and Strickland point to open bay settings in the majority of the facility, and limited lockdown areas as key issues. Stone says the current layout doesn’t allow for the separation of inmates by the severity of the crime they committed, saying some inmates serving time for minor offenses are sharing space with violent felons.

“Over ten percent of my population is in there for murder. There’s a whole lot of serious offenders in there. You have no way to classify prisoners,” Stone said.

Last December state regulators ordered 130 inmates to be removed from the jail to deal with overcrowding while the repairs were made. Stone says some of those inmates are still being housed at jails in neighboring counties.

“We’ve kind of worn out our welcome and we need to house our own prisoners. We don’t need to keep putting this off. We need to look at a way to build a jail and have a safe and secure environment,” said Stone.

In the past, the Nash County Commissioners have expressed their desire to not build a new jail.

On Monday Nash County Commissioners chairman Robbie Davis said, “tremendous work” has been done over the last three months to make improvements in the current facility.

Davis said he is waiting for the completed report from an outside firm hired to examine and evaluate the jail.

Thursday the county engineer, the Sheriff’s Office, and a representative from NC DHHS will provide updates on the jail to County Commissioners.

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