Wake Sheriff's Race Debunks Overcrowding Issue
Posted October 26, 1998
RALEIGH — Too many inmates and too little space - it is a safety concern for jailers and a paperwork problem for the courts. The best solution to overcrowding is the hot debate in the Wake County Sheriff's race.
Crime is down across Wake County, but the race for sheriff is heating up. One of the biggest issues is jail overcrowding - there are 900 inmates housed in a space meant for 480 people. Both contenders have different ideas about how to solve the problem.
Everywhere you look, inmates are sleeping on the floor at the Wake County Jail. For years, Sheriff John Baker has been urging the county to do something about it. Baker says he is concerned about the staff and the inmates.
"The bottom line is they're still human beings and they are innocent until proven guilty," Baker said.
Baker would like to see a new jail built, but his competitor, Republican Donnie Harrison, has another idea.
"I'm in favor of double bunking, putting four to a cell," Harrison said. "That can be done, I've already checked into it and that's something I intend to do when I'm elected."
However, Baker says the plan will not work.
"The building is not designed for that, so what you're hearing is a bunch of political rhetoric out there," Baker said.
One look at the political landscape, and it looks like Wake County is Baker country, but Harrison disagrees.
"You can tell by some of the comments he's made about me that he's a little afraid," Harrison said.
Harrison is a 25-year veteran of the highway patrol, a job he says has prepared him to be sheriff.
"He was a football player. He made the statement the other day that I was a traffic cop on highway patrol and all I did was deal with traffic," Harrison said. "I don't think he's made an arrest, maybe he has. But I've made arrests for murderers, robbers, kidnappers - right on down."
Baker believes his 20-year record speaks for itself. "If it's not broken, then why are you going to fix it?"
Harrison says he also wants to improve response time for deputies in Wake County. Baker says the response time is good, on average about eight to nine minutes.
Baker has asked the county commissioners to approve funding for 92 more deputies over a four-year period, which he says will further improve response time.