Final Report on the Durham Jail

In 2016, the Durham Jail Investigation Team compiled research and documentation on the Durham County Detention Facility (DCDF) for a public forum on the community impact of the jail, hosted by the Durham Human Relations Commission. Our findings were based on hundreds of letters collected by Inside-Outside Alliance and other groups, public information supplied by the Sheriff’s office, interviews with formerly incarcerated persons, and local news media. All evidence and documents (excluding personal information) can be found at our website. Our main findings are as follows:

 

  • Function
    • The jail imposes punitive, long-term confinement on individuals who have not been convicted of a crime. DCDF is meant to be a transitional facility for individuals awaiting trial, but prisoners are housed for as long as five years while they wait. Notably, it lacks programs and facilities—such as outdoor recreation and adequate mental health services—that have been deemed necessary for long-term confinement.
    • The jail population is a direct result of the money bail system. In many cases, the difference between being incarcerated in DCDF and going free rests not on an individual’s actual or suspected behavior, but on their finances.
  • Transparency
    • Obtaining records from DCDF remains difficult.  Since the appointment of Tamara Gibbs as Public Information Officer, the DCDF has responded more regularly with documents to requests for information.  Despite this it remains difficult to obtain clear information.  Policies provided are often obviously out of date and data is in a nearly unusable format or contains information that violates HIPAA.
    • The Durham Sheriff’s department continues to have almost no avenues of public accountability.  There is no public review body for the jail and the Sheriff makes few public appearances and almost none in which he could be questioned on the jail’s operation or policies.
    • DCDF is a facility that is completely unknown by many Durham residents, while others know it all too well. The jail’s operations are not transparent, and its operators—from the Durham Sheriff’s Office to the private companies that serve the facility—are not accountable to the community.
    • The people who know the jail best are the people who live there. They are the ones who can best teach us about this institution. If the Durham community is to learn about the jail and take accountability, it must acknowledge this.
  • Grievance process
    • It is unclear how the Durham Jail grievance process works and if there is any oversight of the process.  The jail provided us an out-of-date grievance policy that references a paper process which is no longer in use.  Communications with the jail discussed a digital process that routes complaints directly to the employee managing the service that the grievance concerns.  It was reported that there are over 100 possible addressees to which these grievances may be directed to for redress and there appears to be little if any central oversight of the process at all.
    • Inmates routinely write that their grievances receive only automatic acknowledgement but no real resolution, or that their grievances seem to have fallen into “black holes.”
    • DCDF receives on average 30,000 grievances and requests from inmates per year. Grievance data shows that inmates are overwhelmingly concerned with medical services in the jail. They are also concerned with legal representation and court dates.
    • Grievances against individual officers, such as those regarding physical or verbal abuse, are considered part of personnel records and are not open to the public.  Thus we are unable to tell the magnitude of such complaints and there is no public accountability for jail employee actions.
  • Cleanliness
    • The Inmate Rule Book indicates that the responsibility of cleanliness and hygiene are on the inmates themselves.  Inmates regularly complain that they are not given sufficient cleaning supplies to maintain the hygiene of their living areas.
  • Contractors
    • Contractors are dependent on free labor.
      • Aramark, before the cancellation of their contract, employed only one manager in the kitchen and one employee in the commissary.  All other labor in the kitchen was provided by unpaid “volunteers”.  Volunteers were compensated with an extra tray of food for which the county paid Aramark.
      • Considering consistent reports by detainees of inadequate portions from the cafeteria, the provision of food as incentive for labor calls into question the voluntary nature of “volunteer” labor.
    • The jail is dependent on commissions from contractors for its operations.  GTL pays a 50% commission to the jail on calls made and Aramark (before its contract was terminated) paid a 26% commission on its commissary sales.  These commissions go back into supporting the jails’ operations.  The jail is thus dependent on commissions from high-priced services provided by its contractors to inmates, in effect surviving off the financial exploitation of its largely low-income (unable to afford bail) detainees.
    • Transaction fees are charged for placing money in the accounts that prisoners must use for purchasing services in the jail.  This is a significant financial burden on low-income prisoners and their families who are also attempting to meet court fees and bail.
    • GTL provides its services at no cost to the county.  GTL makes its profits by fees and call charges on inmates.  In essence, the county has externalized the costs of operating its jail communication services for inmates by allowing GTL the opportunity to profiteer off its inmates, many of whom are low-income and struggling to pay bail and court fees.
  • Medical
    • Correct Care Solutions (CCS), the DCDF’s medical services contractor, is incentivized to avoid seeking off-site care for inmates and minimizing pharmaceutical costs.  This lowers the quality of health care in DCDF. CCS was provided $450,000 to cover the cost of off-site and pharmacy services for the year.  The remainder of this amount at the end of the year is divided between the county and CCS, thus representing pure profit for CCS.  This may explain CCS’s reported reluctance to send inmates for medical procedures or outside consultation of patient medical issues.
    • The jail does not appear to deny inmates medical services if they are unable to pay the $20 fee.  However, the jail will take whatever money is in the inmate’s account and, per inmates’ reports, place negative balances upon their accounts, thus taking any future money placed in the account to pay for a prior medical visit.  This creates situations in which inmates must choose between having their medical needs met or speaking with their loved ones on the phone.
    • Since the raising of the medical fee from $10 to $20, the number of medical transactions have significantly decreased while the revenues from medical visits have increased.  CCS is thus making more money from fewer visits, and inmates are seeking less medical care.
    • Public records show that there were at least three jail deaths between January 2015 and January 2016.
      • Based on the Medical Examiners Report on the the death of Dennis McMurray by overdose while in DCDF custody, his death was likely preventable had the jail sent him to the hospital when he first demonstrated symptoms of opioid overdose.  This is particularly concerning considering the incentivization of not sending detainees for outside care, per the CCS contract.
      • The Medical Examiners’ Report on the death of Matthew McCain indicated that his anti-seizure medication levels were low, which may have resulted in his death from seizure.  This is concerning in light of his stated concerns before his death regarding his medicine administration.
    • CCS has been at the center of a number of national scandals, including some in nearby North Carolina counties.  Since 2010, over 600 lawsuits have been filed against CCS nationally.
  • Guard Abuse
    • First-person accounts, anecdotal evidence, and inmate witnessing also reveal issues of neglect, abuse, and use of force or retaliation by staff. These are not included in publicly available information. For these issues especially, inmate accounts are the most reliable source of information for the community.
    • The beating of Genapher Page in 2015 by DCDF guards demonstrates that such guard-on-detainee abuse does occur in the DCDF and indicates a possible culture of violence.  While the guards involved in the beating were fired after Page’s account became public, there does not appear to have been any institutional response to the beating to prevent further such violence.

 

  • Lockback
    • The jail practices punitive lockback, in which inmates are prohibited from accessing common areas, dining halls, telephones, showers, and other facilities for days at a time. For several months during 2015, inmates were allowed out of lockback for only two hours every two days on a rotating schedule. During those two hours—which could be the middle of the night—they had to choose between eating, exercising, showering, calling loved ones, or contacting legal aid. The jail still uses total lockback as a threat, and inmates no longer receive the two hour evening walk that they received before the lockback.
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