The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

January 22, 2013

Edgecombe prisoner’s life has changed over the years

EDGECOMBE COUNTY JAILS — THEN AND NOW

The Daily Southerner
MIRANDA BAINES

TARBORO — Today’s prisoners in the Edgecombe County Detention Center forego some 21st century luxuries, such as Internet and cable, but they get three meals a day and opportunities to exercise and socialize.

“They have access to a rec yard area where they can go out and walk…twice a week,” said Lt. Mike Lane, chief jailer at the detention center on Anaconda Road, which currently houses 263 inmates, with a capacity for 354. The inmates also have access to a “day room” for socialization.

“They sit around a table, they play cards, if they have any, they draw, write letters, talk,” said Sheriff James Knight. While watching cable TV is not a recreational option, inmates are allowed to watch a TV if it’s brought to them by a family member and inspected by the guards.

The high-security level detention center is a direct/indirect supervision facility.

“We’re not down in the cell with them, but we can see them,” Knight said. Violent offenders are housed in 32-bed lock-down units, whereas lesser offenders are housed in 40-bed “open dorm” style units.

The inmates get up between 6 and 6:30 a.m., eat breakfast at 7:15 a.m., get locked down in their cells at 8 a.m., come back out for lunchtime between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., get locked down again until 4 p.m., eat supper around 4:45 p.m. and are free until night lockdown, at 11 p.m. The only work requirement for the prisoners is the daily cleaning of their cells.

“We don’t have a mandatory work process here,” Knight said. He said the prisoners have an opportunity to volunteer to do jobs such as working in the kitchen and keeping the yard groomed. The detention center houses mainly inmates awaiting trial, while the rest are serving shorter sentences (180 days or less), making a work model less feasible than at a prison.

“Rather than being locked down in this room here, they would rather be doing some type of activity,” Knight said. “It give them self-worth and a chance of keeping their skills sharp and also basically giving them some exercise.”

The detention center, built in 1999, is much more spacious than the jail in the basement of the county courthouse in downtown Tarboro, which opened its doors in 1964. The jail’s capacity was 83 inmates but sometimes housed as many as 100 inmates.

“It wasn’t up to state specs for a jail. It was in bad shape,” said Knight. “It was overcrowded.”

“In the old facility, they were just confined to X amount of space, but here they have more space available to them. They have a larger exercise room. They can visit the law library on a regular basis here,” Lt. Elijah Glass, jail administrator, said. “[Here they have] more room to maneuver around and do different things.”

The visitation area is much larger in the detention center, as well.

“We can accommodate maybe five times more people for visitation over here compared to what we were having over at the annex…36 to 40 people at one time,” Glass said. Inmates have visitation rights on Tuesday, Saturdays and Sundays.

The jail annex has been revamped and now houses only female and juvenile offenders and what jail administrators term “the weekenders” (those arrested for Driving While Impaired). Currently, the facility has 49 inmates, which are housed four to a cell in a 12-person block. Their lock-up times are the same as the detention center. The inmates have access to a law library and an exercise room with an exercise bike.

While the non-descript white walls, utilitarian bunks and lack of privacy aren’t exactly an inviting environment, Knight speculates that some of the offenders have a better life inside the walls than they would out on the streets, selling drugs or becoming involved in other criminal activities.

“The majority are repeat offenders – 60 percent or more,” Knight said. “This drug thing, it’s a tough sickness. Back in the 1960’s and 70’s, you had people breaking into homes. If they stole a TV, they took it to a residence. Now if they steal a TV, they’re selling it for drugs. Seventy-five percent of break-ins are drug-related.”

Younger offenders, between the ages of 18 and 25, are the norm now. Despite starting at a younger age and often becoming repeat offenders, some who get locked up are able to live a productive life after serving their sentence.

“Don’t give up on them. Anything is possible,” Knight said. The detention center has a jail ministry and a GED program for inmates who want to advance their education.