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Reducing the Jail Population

Welcome to our fifth week of Policy Wednesday! This week’s topic of discussion will be reducing the jail population at the Mecklenburg County jail. It is important to keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of people in Mecklenburg County jail are people who have been accused, but not convicted, of a crime.  A judge has determined they are eligible for release; however, they are simply too poor to be able to purchase their freedom while they await the outcome of their case. 

Poor Jail Conditions

A state inspection of the Mecklenburg County jail, from December 21st, found that the current conditions of the jail presented an “imminent threat to the safety of the inmates and staff” at the jail.  With 1,375 adults currently housed at the jail, the facility is overcrowded; this problem is compounded by the fact that the jail is massively understaffed, with a job vacancy rate of over 50%.  On top of overcrowding and understaffing, a COVID-19 outbreak driven by the spread of Omicron has resulted in 156 active cases in the jail. The state report recommends that the jail reduce its population to below 1,000, from its current population of 1,375, in order to improve safety conditions at the jail.  The current DA’s office has no plan to help reach that population goal. Tim does. 

Release Inmates Facing Probation 

Many of those locked inside the Mecklenburg County jail are facing probationary sentences for their offenses, usually misdemeanors and low-level felonies.  In fact, 89 inmates are being held for misdemeanor offenses. It’s absurd that these people are being held against their will pre-trial for offenses they will never receive prison time for.  As District Attorney, Tim would implement an office-wide policy to consent to release any person that has a high likelihood of receiving a probationary plea offer. These people do not pose a public safety threat; they are simply stuck inside an overcrowded jail because they cannot afford to buy their freedom.  This is unjust and dangerous for everyone at the jail. 

Prioritize Jail Cases for Jury Trials

There are inmates at the jail that have been charged with offenses that necessitate their staying in jail until trial.  The District Attorney’s office needs to prioritize jury trials for cases involving inmates inside the county jail instead of putting non-jail cases higher up on the docket. This will reduce the amount of time people spend in jail, thereby reducing the overall population of the jail at any given time. 

Permanent Policy Change            

Lastly, it should be noted that Tim will not implement these policies merely as a stopgap during a public health crisis; these will be permanent policy changes. The need to reduce the jail population extends beyond concerns regarding COVID-19.  As District Attorney, Tim’s goal will always be to minimize the Mecklenburg County jail’s population, regardless of whether there is a pandemic or not.