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N.C. jail ‘will never close’ despite staffing issues, sheriff says

“That is not happening under my watch,” Sheriff Garry McFadden said


Sheriff Garry McFadden is working to depopulate the jail to under 1,000 inmates to help ease a major staffing shortage; there were 1,316 inmates housed as of March 8.

N.C. Sheriff’s Association

By Jonathan Limehouse
The Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Days before an inspection response is due to state officials, Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden came before the county board of commissioners Tuesday and affirmed the jail in uptown Charlotte “will never close” despite staffing level problems.

“The rumor has been that we are closing, or they’re forcing us to close,” he said. “That is not happening under my watch.”

Chief Jail Inspector Chris Wood recommended that McFadden and the Sheriff’s Office get the inmate population to under 1,000 to help ease a yearlong staffing crisis. The jail had 1,407 inmates as of Dec. 21, the Observer previously reported.

A plan of correction is due to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services by Friday.

“Simply we have deficiencies,” McFadden said. “That means a few things are out of place, a few things are out of order. We are not perfect.”

McFadden is working to depopulate the jail, as there are 1,316 inmates housed as of March 8, according to Sheriff’s Office records. The number of inmates released on Tuesday was 39, but that same number were also booked.

The Sheriff’s Office averaged 37 daily bookings and 39 releases in February, McFadden said.

“When we talk about depopulation it’s almost impossible, but we did our best effort,” he said. “Last week, 350 people were released from Mecklenburg county detention center just on a regular basis, but about 300 came through the back door.”

McFadden said he reached out to the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association on Dec. 22 and requested assistance from the 99 other sheriffs. The Observer contacted seven surrounding county sheriff’s offices on Jan. 5, and Catawba and Gaston together took in only 25 Mecklenburg inmates.

The Sheriff’s Office is continuing to work with the U.S. Marshals and the county criminal justice partners to help with the depopulation effort.

Since mid-January, the county Criminal Justice Department has been able to help release 48 inmates, Services Director Sonya Harper told the board.

Filling vacancies

There are 470 total positions in the jail, and 141 were vacant in December, spokeswoman Janet Parker told the Observer. The Sheriff’s Office hasn’t said how many vacancies have been filled since December.

Staff going on family medical leave, an increase in worker compensation claims, voluntary resignations and the temporary absence of the jail’s COVID quarantine requirements led to the shortages, Maj. Sheray DeLeone-Brown told the board.

“We had to do whatever it took in November and December to make it work,” McFadden said.

The staffing shortages led to a number of violent incidents involving weapons against jail officers, but none have happened since Nov. 2, McFadden said. The Sheriff’s Office implemented a tactical response unit comprised of trained officers on Dec. 9 to help prevent violence in the jail, he said.

“Because we did not have the staffing at the time, and other people left the agency for better jobs, we had to do something to completely support our staff who was there,” said McFadden.

To augment staffing, the Sheriff’s Office began using private security on Feb. 14, McFadden said. The guards are working in the lobby of the jail in uptown, the county courthouse and the Sheriff’s Office headquarters and administrative services building.

©2022 The Charlotte Observer.