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Durham County Sheriff Wants 14 Guards For A New Mental Health Detention Unit

Durham County Detention Facility
Ildar Sagdejev (Specious)
Durham County Detention Facility

A federal review of the Durham County Detention Facility recommends creating a separate unit for inmates with mental health diagnoses.

Officials with the National Institute of Corrections reviewed the facility's operations over two days, and talked with personnel and inmates, before releasing its assessment. It gave the jail passing marks, but made 33 recommendations that address a range of issues from food palatability to the distribution of prisoner beds.

About a quarter of the 510 inmates have severe mental health issues, according to Sheriff Mike Andrews, but they're housed throughout the general population, which complicates logistical operations.

The report had this to say about turning a closed block into a mental health pod:

Virtually all staff interviewed indicated a need for a mental health unit where inmates with a mental health diagnosis could be managed by a combination of correctional and mental health staff. The benefit of such housing will significantly reduce the behavior management issues that are currently arising in numerous housing units, and provide more pointed service in one location. Moreover, staff working the unit could be provided additional training to work with this unique, but increasing the population.

The Sheriff's Office is requesting $852,000 for the mental health pod, according to Spokeswoman Tamara Gibbs. This would include staffing the housing unit with 14 experienced detention officers.

It would also cover the cost of adding suicide prevention grilles and other physical upgrades to jail cells. Gibbs said about $25,000 has already been earmarked in the 2016 budget for physical upgrades to a mental health pod, which include the suicide prevention grills.

"Essentially, the mental health pod is ready to go on our end, but additional staffing is needed to make it a reality," Gibbs said in an email.

The Durham County Manager's proposed budget through 2017 does not include funding for the mental health officers. The NIC report was released after the Sheriff proposed his budget to the County Board of Commissioners last week.

Durham County Commissioner Brenda Howerton said the Board will review the NIC report and consider Andrews' request.

"I think a mental health unit is needed to make sure that people are cared for," Howerton said. "If they end up in our jails with mental health issues, they're still our citizens and they need care."

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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