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Group wants independent investigation of conditions at Durham County jail

Posted December 10, 2015
Updated December 11, 2015

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— Two Durham County Jail detention officers were recently fired and criminally charged after investigators concluded they used unreasonable force against inmate Genapher Page, throwing her to the ground and punching her in the face.

The fight cost Officer Anita Louise Alston and Officer Rachel L. Smith their jobs. A supervisory review determined the pair “utilized force that appeared to be beyond the amount reasonably necessary to restrain a detainee,” the Durham County Sheriff's Office said in a statement released Monday.

A group calling themselves The Jail Investigation Team is asking for an independent investigation of conditions at the facility. The group has voiced concerns about sanitation, medical care and the time inmates spend locked in their cells.

There are currently 487 inmates in the detention facility, and many friends and family members say they are treated inhumanely.

“People in Durham are required to treat their pets better than we’re treating folks here in jail,” said Durham city councilor, Jillian Johnson.

The Durham County Sheriff's Office announced in October that general population detainees would have up to eight hours per day to use the housing unit's common and recreation areas, which doubled the previous amount of time inmates had been allowed outside their cells.

Umar Muhammad, 28, knows what it feels like to be an inmate looking out a window in the Durham County’s jail. He was charged in 2008 with two counts of misdemeanor drug paraphernalia possession and robbery with a dangerous weapon.

“I have had many trips to the Durham County Jail,” he said.

Muhammad was released from prison in 2012 and now wants to help people in the community who believed in him. The 28-year-old has become a community organizer with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice since his release three years ago.

On Thursday night, Muhammad and other demonstrators protested against the improper treatment of inmates in the jail.

“Not only are these people not convicted, these people are people,” Muhammad said. “You want to treat people as people. Mold on the mattress, days without showering; that's unacceptable.”

Cynthia Fox’s son, Kadeem Rasheed Johnson, was in the jail for two and a half years and echoed the message about the rough conditions.

“They treat you like you have no rights when you come here at all,” she said. “If you don’t have any outside help then you get no assistance. If you don’t get any outside assistance you go hungry here, you go cold.”

Sheriff Mike Andrews said he will ask a federal agency—the National Institute of Corrections—to inspect the conditions.

"Upon my request, the agency will conduct a thorough inspection of the detention center and offer recommendations on the best practices early next year," Andrews said.

Andrews added that a staffing allocation analysis—a review of jail resources—is currently being conducted, and the Durham County Health Department is also examining the nutritional value of meals served.


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  • Doug Bogard Dec 11, 2015
    user avatar

    Bigwillie, I can't explain something to you when you will not comprehend. Tour Durham County jail. it is a nice facility operating under state and federal regulations. The problem is the prisoners and bleading hearts like yourself who are clueless to the situation.

  • Walter Bartlett Dec 11, 2015
    user avatar

    And as far as the 2 officers who were thrown under the bus regarding being assaulted, it sounds ridiculous. This classy inmate, who openly admits to assaulting the officer first & even is foolish enough to make a comment that 'nobody deserves to be assaulted'. On top of that, there was no details or video of the incident, just a broad statement that "more force than necessary was used." Which opens the door to a lot of wiggle room between the truth and rumors.

    The attitude towards law enforcement in general by the public has gotten to absurd anymore I don't even know what to say. This is just foolish. These people want stuff handed to them, for free, for messing up no less. Most of the people in the jail are leaches to society

  • Walter Bartlett Dec 11, 2015
    user avatar

    Is this for real? Here's a concept; if you don't like jail or the conditions of jail - STOP BREAKING THE LAW AND STAY OUT OF JAIL!!! Nobody is forcing you to go there but your own actions. Jails are inspected randomly by jail standards. Jails naturally are not the cleanest place, but no jail is just going to be falling apart and allowed to stay open - especially in a big city like Durham.

    A big part of the problem is most inmates are too lazy to clean or do anything productive. They are given cleaning supplies to clean, but & feels like doing it; they'd rather play cards and watch TV; then sit there & whine when stuff is dirty. It sounds like they actually have it better than lots of places in Durham. They get 8 hrs/day in common areas. State law dictates nearly every part of the operation procedures of jails/prisons. As long as they are meeting the minimum standards, they're doing what they're supposed to. They are even going above the minimum standards in some cases

  • Jill Perry Dec 11, 2015
    user avatar

    NC jails are inspected twice a year by a jail inspector from the Department of Health and Human Services and twice a year by the Grand Jury. The jails are inspected once a year by the fire marshal. The jail kitchen is inspected once a year by a health inspector, just like restaurants. In addition, jail menus have to approved to make certain the menus meet nutritional and caloric standards.

  • BigWillie Johnson Dec 11, 2015
    user avatar

    How does what you are stating Doug have anything to do with the conditions of the jail? You are on the wrong news article. I repeat, my points are valid, a prisoner is serving punishment by being in jail. They deserve to be fed and have their safety maintained. Our failure to do that makes us just as illegal in our actions as the crimes they committed. If you would research you would understand the majority of the population are in there for misdemeanor offenses. Of course in your world Doug, you would probably want to take them out back and shoot them, as a cost savings measure. Please do not warm a church pew, as I will be then be reading about another church burning down from a lightning strike.

  • Doug Bogard Dec 11, 2015
    user avatar

    Big Willie, Mrs. Haversham,
    Lets use current affairs. The prisoner who while hancuffed elbowed a guard in the face. She was subdued and beat down by the female guards. They were both fired for their actions.
    This is how it works in jail. The guard that got assaulted had to beat the prisoner down. If she had not, she would have been a target to the other prisoners. Her partner had to help because she has her partners back. By showing force it deters other prisoners from assaulting guards.
    Punishment deters the crime. These guards deal with criminals, from mentally challenged to violent individuals. Each and everyone has commited crimes that get you placed in jail. It is not an office job, nor a teaching job. It is a place where people survive by force. A place where someone has to watch your back. A place where you could die as easily as go home. It is not all sunshine and daiseys on your way to the kitten factory. It is a place where the worst societey has to offer await trial.

  • BigWillie Johnson Dec 11, 2015
    user avatar

    Opponents to reform are missing the point. Everyone involved is not denying there should be punishment. But the punishment should be humane and civilized, not in conditions that are barbaric, then we become no better than the criminals. Many of the posters on here, by their comments, show they do not have the intellect to watch over other citizens.

  • Anne Havisham Dec 11, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Mr. Bogard, I live and teach in Durham. I check the WRAL arrest pictures almost every day and often see some of my former students there.

    It appears that you believe all people who are arrested are, by virtue of their arrest, guilty. Please let an official of the court know of that belief if you are called for jury duty.

    You have made a logical fallacy in assuming that compassion is born of naivete. You may want to ask yourself why you make a connection between the two.

  • LetsBeFair Dec 11, 2015

    Some seem to think that your innocent until proven guilty. Therefore you should be treated as innocent. And Well, not exactly. You're in jail because there is enough reason to believe YOU ARE GUILTY and being in public would jeopardize safety, so our government is going to protect us by putting someone in Jail.

  • Mark Colyer Dec 11, 2015
    user avatar

    I think they should have a mint on their pillow each morning and get to go to the spa.