NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – Everything including a person's nutritional, medical and safety needs become the responsibility of the New Hanover County Detention Facility when someone is arrested. In light of that fact, the jail is now prioritizing a new project to cut down on attempted suicides and injuries with a steel shield.
In total, five inmates have either attempted to kill themselves, get attention or get an injury by jumping off the 10-foot ledge inside the housing units. Matthew Luke, an inmate, saw it happen around Christmas.
"He comes dartin' up the stairs…his feet hooked around the bars, and he just hangs there like he's gonna jump face first," recalled Luke.
It doesn't happen frequently, but when it does it can create a chaotic scene inside a housing unit.
"I was shakin' for about 15 minutes because it happened directly in front of me,"explained Luke.
Given that most attempts occur feet first, it's believed that jumping is largely intended to sustain just enough injury to warrant outside medical care, and not immediate death.
Still, after the first incident, Sheriff Ed McMahon says he knew preventative measures were necessary.
"If they're violent in the community, they're going to continue to be violent when they come here," cautioned McMahon. "So, we want to do everything we can to keep both them and the officers safe."
Three units have now been outfitted with floor-to-ceiling reinforced steel fencing on the second level. Housing Unit Sierra cost $74,000 to outfit, and the entire jail will cost an estimated $500,000 to complete.
"The project is absolutely going to be expensive, but if one inmate gets hurt, if one officer gets hurt, you can't put a price on someone's security and safety," says McMahon.