The need for an independent community-based investigation of the Durham County Jail has never been more clear. Published letters from prisoners and public statements from Durham residents with loved ones inside reveal a system of abuse and violence. Medical care is arbitrarily denied to prisoners who are sick or injured – many of whom were made sick by the unsanitary living conditions and/or injured by their jailers. Prisoners are served food on dirty trays, in quantities so small as to force them to buy from the overpriced commissary. Muslim prisoners have been prevented from observing Ramadan or receiving religious publications in the mail. The in-custody deaths of three people in 2015, including Matthew McCain and Dennis McMurray, have gone unexplained and unanswered for by the Sheriff’s department, with no indication that the administration of the jail will change in response. These and many other abuses demonstrate a fundamental disrespect for the lives and dignity of all those most likely to see the inside of this or any jail in America: low income people, people of color, and religious, gender, and sexual minorities.
If this abuse is to be ended, an independent human rights investigation of the jail, conducted by members of the Durham community, is essential. We, the undersigned faith, labor, community, student, neighborhood, and other civil society organizations, are grateful to the work of the Durham County Jail Investigation Team and echo their demands for the following:
- Private, confidential, in-person visits, in order to administer a survey to 100 prisoners currently confined to the jail, starting no later than January 11, 2016 (these prisoners must voluntarily agree to participate in the survey, and must not be hand-picked by prison officials);
- A full inspection of medical and dining facilities and living quarters, including pods and showers;
- All data related to grievances, including a detailed account of the grievance process, a record of all grievances filed, their outcomes, and interviews with the grievance officer(s) at the jail;
- Monthly revenue summary reports Aramark, GTL, Touch Pay, Correct Care Solutions, and all other private companies contracted to provide services at the jail;
- Documented evidence of when all cells are opened and closed on a daily basis since October 1, 2015.
These steps are necessary for the Durham community to have an adequate account of the human rights violations that are occurring in the jail, and to begin to make the changes necessary to stop these abuses from taking place. As such, we fully support the Jail Investigation Team in conducting its work for the sake of the common good.
Prison & Justice Action Committee (Duke Divinity School)
The Durham Association of Educators
Black Workers For Justice
Muslims for Social Justice
Durham Prison Books Collective
Warriors 4 Epilepsy
Durham Epilepsy Support Team
Feminist Club of Chapel Hill High School
Witness for Peace Southeast
Carolina Jews for Justice
School for Conversion
Triangle Jewish Voice for Peace
Triangle Showing Up For Racial Justice
Durham People’s Alliance