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Carolina Public Press publishes four-part investigative series on building jails across North Carolina

The Bladen County jail, completed in 2017 with a $16 million price tag, is one of the...
The Bladen County jail, completed in 2017 with a $16 million price tag, is one of the facilities across North Carolina featured in a four-part investigative series by reporter Jordan Wilkie and Carolina Public Press.(WECT)
Published: Nov. 1, 2021 at 5:15 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A four-part investigative series of reports by reporter Jordan Wilkie and Carolina Public Press takes an in-depth look at ‘how and why North Carolina counties decide to build or expand jails, the costs of these decisions and possible alternatives’. Wilkie, who has covered many other aspects of the criminal justice system, conducted dozens of interviews for the series of reports, and pored over document after document related to operations of county jails and building new ones.

“The takeaway is pretty simple,” Wilkie said in an interview with WECT about the series. “Counties are building jails without a lot of scrutiny about how they are using them. There’s legitimate reasons for building a new jail. There’s issues of conditions of confinement. Through the 80s there were all kinds of lawsuits in prisons and jails around Eighth Amendment issues. Then you have other issues that are about ‘is the county using the jail in the most efficient way possible to save taxpayer dollars, to serve the purpose of public safety?’ A lot of these questions haven’t been heavily scrutinized in the counties that are building jails.”

The third installment of the series features the Bladen County jail, which was completed in 2017. Wilkie reports only one out of every three inmates in the facility is from Bladen County. The rest are federal detainees or inmates from other jurisdictions, which allows the county to make money by charging for its’ open beds.

“That is the argument, although there are some questions really about the effectiveness of that revenue stream,” Wilkie said. “The vast majority of the money that is brought in from housing people for other jurisdictions just goes right back into paying the cost of housing them. So, according to the numbers that Bladen County gave to me, they are paid $75 a day by the federal government to house U.S. Marshals detainees. Their cost of housing them is $68 a day. So, there’s about a $7 a day revenue gain. But the trick to that is, when I asked they are doing with that extra money, they said ‘Oh, we’re sending it back to the jail because there’s additional costs to house the federal inmates’. So, it’s not clear that they are making any net gain at all.”

Wilkie is hosting a panel discussion at Noon on Wednesday, November 3 with individuals who have been incarcerated in North Carolina, along with advocates working to change how counties look at their criminal justice system. You can click here to register for watch the event.

Clicking here will take you to the landing page on the Carolina Public Press website to access the four parts of Wilkie’s special report, along with graphic elements and other stories on the issue.

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