Snapshots of WNC jails: Not all jails are created equal
In a criminal justice system that is often operated under rigid regulations and protocols, people may be surprised to find the disparities within the walls of local jails.
All the jails have the same basics — sally port, booking area, magistrate office, holding cells, inmate pods and control rooms with security cameras — but each facility is set up a little differently.
Sheriffs and jail administrators have a lot of leeway when it comes to managing their facilities whether it’s staffing or making services and programs available to people incarcerated.
“I haven’t seen one jail that’s the same and it’s done that way for a reason,” said Haywood County Detention Capt. Glen Matayabas. “We all have general guidelines we follow, but each sheriff has the ability to determine how they want their jails to be run. There’s no requirement you have to have so many programs — some choose to do more than others.”
Haywood County Detention Center
Haywood County Detention Center, under the leadership of Matayabas and Sheriff Greg Christopher, is a 148-bed facility constructed in 2005 for $12 million.
When making your way through the jail, it becomes obvious it was designed to accommodate more rehabilitation services than some of the older jails in the region.
It has a larger medical examination room, a multi-purpose room for programs that also serves as a library, audio-visual visitation rooms and an industrial size kitchen.
Sheriff Christopher said he’s been extremely open to allowing different religious organizations to come in and minister to inmates willing to participate.
Various religious services are available to inmates daily as well as groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. A drug class is offered through Meridian Behavioral Health for two hours on Mondays, an hour-long yoga class on Mondays, LifeWorks career classes on Wednesdays, and Angels of Mercy on Thursday.
“You have to have hope for these people and know this is not what was meant for them,” Matayabas said. “And they’re only going to have the ability to do it if they have faith in God and themselves.”
Christopher is also excited about a grant that Haywood Pathways Center received to place two peer specialists in the jail full time to help people create and execute a plan of action when they are released.
“If we’re able to use two people to work here five days a week to really focus on these inmates’ needs, I think that will have a positive impact for us. It will take a little while but I’m very excited about that,” he said.
As for medical services, the Haywood jail contracts with a jail nurse that is on site 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and a physician’s assistant comes on Mondays for more significant medical issues that may come up for inmates. The nurse also schedules any doctor appointments for inmate medical conditions.
The jail also has industrial washers and dryers and an industrial kitchen so all laundry can be done and all meals can be cooked in house. Sometimes inmates with certain charges who have been at the jail for so many days can assist with tasks like laundry or cooking and can get good behavior points and time taken off their sentence.
Within the housing unit, one 31-bed dormitory is specifically for females. Showers and 7-by-10-foot cells with toilets and bunk beds line one wall while the other wall has several computers where inmates can respond to emails and a few telephones where they can call out. The pod also has a couple of big screen TVs on the wall for the inmates to watch.
Then there is B pod, which can hold up to 24 male inmates — mostly those with behavior issues — and two other male pods. Sex offenders are kept in a separate smaller dormitory for their own protection. The jail also has an annex that can house up to 40 inmates.
Matayabas said it keeps cost down by not operating the annex, but when it has to be used it typically houses low-level offenders like people who are being held for not paying child support. Because state inspectors classify the annex’s security grade lower than the main jail, the facility has to be manned by two officers at all times no matter if it has 10 inmates or 40.
Inmates have free time hours, which means they’re not under lockdown in their cells, between 9-11 a.m., 2-4 p.m. and 8-10 p.m.
Matayabas has served as the jail administrator in Haywood for just over a year now, but came to Haywood after overseeing the Buncombe County Detention Center for a number of years.
“My goal is to run a safe, secure, quiet and clean facility and I’m always looking at how we can make things better,” he said.
Jackson County Detention Center
Jackson County Detention Capt. John Buchanan was a sheriff’s deputy, investigator and a Sylva Police office before being appointed jail administrator in 2015.
“One of the first moves I made when elected was to get a new full-time jail administrator, and he’s done a great job,” said Sheriff Chip Hall.
Buchanan took over following two inmate deaths in the jail. On March 13, 2015, a detention officer discovered Steven Allen Ross Jr., 38, hanging in his cell around 5:15 p.m. as he did his rounds to check on inmates. State regulations require officers to check on inmates twice an hour, but a jail log showed the officer on duty hadn’t checked on inmates between 3:51 and 5:18 p.m.
Just a few months before that incident, Charles “Chuckie” Moose, 36, was also found hanging under the watch of the same officer.
Hall had just been elected sheriff but wouldn’t be sworn in for another 10 days. The jail was still under the control of former Sheriff Jimmy Ashe. Hall told commissioners in January he needed to hire a jail captain immediately, but the new administrator didn’t come on board until the first week of April 2015.
Buchanan said he knew it was going to be a challenge and a change of pace from his past law enforcement experience.
“I was used to patrolling, arresting and bringing someone in — that was my job,” Buchanan said. “But it’s a whole other mindset on this side of it. Someone once told me that if you act in the best interest of the inmates you’ll never go wrong and so that’s what I live by.”
It’s a good attitude to have and it seems like it’s paying off. Sheriff Hall said he changed the jail’s bedding and bunk beds following the jail deaths to reduce the risk of inmate suicides.
Still, the Jackson County’s 72-bed facility was built in 2003 and wasn’t designed with services in mind. There’s the standard booking area, medical examination office and housing unit, but space is somewhat limited for anything else. Hall said he would like any future expansion to include a common area.
“I’d like to have an assembly room to offer more programming — there’s a number of needs for that kind of help to our inmates,” Hall said. “We’re limited on the number of participants we can have for a program because of how they have to set up in the pods.”
Despite space constraints, Buchanan said the jail does allow for a number of programs, including AA and NA, various ministries and a drug rehabilitation class for those willing to participate.
Jackson contracts with Southeastern Correctional Medical Group for medical services. A nurse is on site to see patients every morning and to perform a physical and mental health screening for people being booked into the jail to ensure their specific medical conditions are being managed whether they have diabetes, high blood pressure or suffering from substance withdrawals.
“We can put people on a detox program, which can vary based on the addiction,” said nurse Jennifer Adams. While the jail doesn’t start people on a long-term treatment for opiates, they will continue that kind of treatment for certain inmates, especially if it’s a female inmate who is pregnant.
“If she’s pregnant and on suboxone it’s too much of a risk to her and the baby to take her off of it,” Adams said.
The jail’s housing unit is fairly similar to the others — a pod for females and separate male pods for different levels of offenses. They are dormitory style with two levels — bunks up top and tables and showers on the lower levels. Inmates do have access to TV and telephones when they aren’t on lockdown, but they don’t have as much free time as the Haywood jail allows.
Buchanan said inmates are out of their cells in the mornings as the nurse tries to see as many patients as she can and then they are placed on lockdown at 1 p.m. after lunch and then let out once again in the evening for dinner.
Swain County Detention Center
Swain County Detention Center is the only jail in the area that participates in the U.S. Marshall’s program to house federal inmates, which is why the jail was built to hold 109 inmates despite the county’s small population.
Holding inmates for the federal government does bring in additional revenue to help offset the county’s jail budget. Sheriff Curtis Cochran said on average the jail has 15 to 20 federal inmates a day that generate about $300,000 a year in revenue.
Like the other jails in the region, Swain also participates in the state’s misdemeanant confinement program to house state inmates charged with certain misdemeanors, including DWI. It’s another source of revenue to offset expenses, but some jails limit the number of state inmates it will take in at one time to avoid overcrowding.
Swain also has its own industrial size kitchen to prepare meals and washers and dryers to do all the laundry. The county contracts with Summit Food Service for its meals, a service also used by Macon and Clay counties.
For medical services, Swain contracts with Smoky Mountain Urgent Care that provides a nurse five days a week for four hours a day. If someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, Cochran said they call Appalachian Community Services to come do an evaluation. Inmates needing more serious medical care have to be transported to the hospital and supervised by an officer. Unless they are indigent, Cochran said inmates are responsible for paying a $20 co-pay when making a doctor or hospital visit.
Just like the other jails, there are booking cells for temporary holding until someone is placed in one of the dormitories. Swain has four identical pods that house 16 males in each and one is specifically for sex offenders. Females also have a separate pod. Cochran said the pods have TVs and even an audio-visual visitation phone inmates can use for visitation.
Cochran said he does allow ministries to come into the jail for several hours a day, but has had a hard time finding volunteers that want to come hold an AA or NA class, though it’s something inmates have shown an interest in having.
Macon County Detention Center
Macon County’s 75-bed jail was buzzing with activity during a recent visit.
Operating at full capacity means more movement as inmates are being booked, being transported or participating in a class or church service.
“People are constantly in and out — it’s a never-ending process,” said Sheriff Robert Holland.
There are 21 employees working in the jail, but only three detention officers per shift to manage a full house. On top of everything else, Holland said his jail administrator of seven years Steve Stewart left abruptly several weeks ago due to personal issues and he’s in the process of finding a permanent replacement. In the meantime, the sheriff’s brother Tim Holland, a detective with the department and former jail administrator, has taken over jail duties temporarily.
Built in 1999, Macon’s law enforcement center, which contains the jail, does not have an industrial kitchen to prepare meals. The county contracts with Summit Food Service to bring in three meals a day — breakfast is provided in the morning and then lunch and dinner arrive delivered at lunch time. Holland said warmers were purchased to keep the dinner warm until later in the evening.
While other jails have a nurse on staff, Macon has a medical officer Scott Marion to manage the medical needs for the inmates. He evaluates each person booked into the jail to see what they’re medical needs are moving forward.
“If they’re using recreational drugs and not taking care of themselves, it comes through here,” Marion said. “And there’s usually underlying issues that come to light as well.”
Macon also contracts with a doctor to provide medical services when needed and to continue inmates on any treatments they are already undergoing, including any detox.
“We will continue suboxone but we won’t stat anyone on it here,” Marion said.
As far as programming and service for inmates, Holland has a mental health counselor visit the jail twice a week to hold classes and provide individual support.
He also allows ministries and mental health classes to be held inside the jail on a regular basis. The jail does have a multi-purpose room used for church services, Bible studies, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) support groups, NA and AA.
The jail also started a “Prime for Life” treatment program in collaboration with Appalachian Community Services to help inmates overcome addiction and have a plan of action for when they are released. To be eligible to participate in the program, Holland said participants have to be in jail for more than 90 days on certain drug-related charges. ACS conducts the program, but it is funded through the sheriff’s own budget. To date, more than 80 people have graduated from the program.
“Most of them have said if not for this program not being offered in jail, they wouldn’t have taken the program,” Holland said. “Most say they’ll go to rehab on their own but they never do.”