CLINTON, N.C. (WNCN) – In the town of Clinton, officers at the Sampson County Detention Center monitor nearly 280 inmates.
The facility that holds six pods and 250 beds is currently filled above capacity.
It’s in the same facility that Sheriff Jimmy Thornton said they’ve had detention officers hit, bitten, spit on and assaulted by inmates. So far this year, there have been 24 assault reports within the county jail.
“It’s tough to find people who would really enjoy working with that kind of environment,” said the sheriff. He added, “Even though those individuals are incarcerated back there doesn’t mean that we can’t provide a safe environment for them. It’s an absolute must—especially our employees.”
A list of incidents at the Sampson County Detention Center since December 2022 also includes 25 assaults on inmates by other inmates, five attempted suicides, two attempted escapes, and 23 reports of property damage.
Sheriff Thornton said they’re all issues they’ve dealt with while the county detention center is experiencing a high number of vacancies. Detention officers are not only responsible for checking the six pods every half hour, but staff also distribute meals three times a day and perform medical care. Officers are split up between four different shifts.
At one point, with nearly 14 vacancies, Sheriff Thornton said they had just two detention officers who covered a shift. He said they’ve since been able to hire three additional employees, but it takes a full year for staff to become fully trained and certified—it’s not a quick transition.
To help maintain safety and security at the detention center, Sheriff Thornton said it’s become more routine to have to pull resources from other divisions including deputies from patrol.
“We need to pay decent salaries and when we can’t compete with surrounding counties and you have employees that are leaving going into surrounding counties… There’s been a lot of time invested in training those individuals,” said Sheriff Thornton. He continued, “The public needs to know what takes place in these jails, and it’s not just Sampson County, it’s every county jail. And other county jails are short-staffed, too.”
Since the facility was built, the sheriff said the Sampson County Detention Center has generated about $24 million for the county. He said detention officers deserve more than a $34,000 salary.
Despite the challenges, Sheriff Thornton said, “Regardless of the obstacles or hardships, they do the job.”
CBS 17 News also reached out to other county detention centers. Deputies from the Nash County Sheriff’s Office said the applicant pool has gotten smaller—they’re working to fill 18 detention officer vacancies. Orange and Wake Counties also continue to fill openings. On the other hand, Hoke, Moore, and Franklin Counties are just a few where staff said they’ve been able to maintain adequate staffing.