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Jail overcrowding forces Pender to spend thousands to house inmates in other jails

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The current jail only has 92 beds, which Sheriff Smith said isn't enough room. (Source: WECT) The current jail only has 92 beds, which Sheriff Smith said isn't enough room. (Source: WECT)
PENDER COUNTY, NC (WECT) -

The Pender County Jail is overcrowded, and it's costing the County hundreds of thousands of dollars to house them elsewhere.

"We've run out of room in the jail," Pender County Sheriff Carson Smith explained. "It was a constant battle of moving people around inside the jail as much as we could, then it got to the point where we just could not do it anymore and we had to start sending them out and the cost started to sky rocket."

Smith said officials were forced to start sending criminals to serve their sentence in other county's jails because of the overcrowding issue.

While it didn't cost a lot of money in the beginning, when there were not as many inmates, the Sheriff said in the past two or three years it has started getting "really expensive."

"This week we had 38 prisoners that are sent out of the county," Sheriff Smith said. "The going rate for most jails is about $50 – per inmate – per day. When you start doing the math you can see it adds up really quickly."

That means the county will spend roughly $13,300 this week alone. 

According to the Pender County Finance Department, from July 1, 2013 to June 18, 2014, the county has spent $527,000 on sending inmates to other jails.

An additional $100,000 was approved Monday, to allow the Sheriff's Office to pay for all of the inmates that had to be sent to other jails this month.

Only around $284,527 was included in the FY 13/FY 14 budget, meaning the additional cost of approximately $350,000 will come from the county's contingency fund.

Not only is it costly to pay other counties to house Pender inmates, Smith said it also takes money and resources to move the criminals. To help with the large volume of inmate transports, the sheriff said they will be hiring another jail transportation employee next year.

"We are adding another position, the folks that do transportation have just been overwhelmed and the hours they work, including nights and weekends is just to the point where we need more staff," Smith said.

Additionally, he said it becomes a liability to transport criminals that often.

"Anytime you introduce humans and transportation and moving back and forth from county to county, several things can happen, things that are unforeseen can happen, accidents can happen."

That's why Sheriff Smith said another jail is needed, so that all Pender inmates can be kept in one place, and only taken to and from the courthouse.

Interim County Manager Butch Watson said officials have been working on building a new jail for two and a half years.

While officials had a site picked out in Burgaw, Watson said it didn't work out due to soil quality and zoning regulations. Now, he said they do have another site picked out, but are surveying it's soil to see if it could hold the new jail.

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