DURHAM — Criminals are being turned away from the Durham County jail, but not because of a lack of beds or space. A paperwork problem is keeping people from being put behind bars.
The man who runs the Durham County jail says it happens frequently. Sentenced criminals show up at the jail to turn themselves in only to be turned away. Every day they show up, they are credited for time served -- even though they do not spend one hour behind bars.
District Attorney James Hardin Jr. says that equal to changing a sentence without court approval.
"They can't do that. A judge is the only entity that can modify a sentence, and it does not appear that has happened," he says. "We're going to get to the bottom of it, figure out why and resolve it."
Ada Gregory, director of Durham's Coalition for Domestic Violence, says the practice is a slap in the face to every victim of a crime.
"It is troubling because we want to make sure batterers are held accountable for the crime they commit," she says. "When they are releasing people who are not serving the full time that they have been sentenced to, then that also sends a message to batterers that they can get away with it."
Without the proper paperwork forwarded from the clerk's office or the probation department, the jail is not legally able to take custody of a sentenced criminal.
As for giving them credit for time served, Durham County Sheriff Worth Hill says that is a practice he inherited long before he took office.
"This happened years ago when the lawyers appeared in front of the judge and argued their point saying, 'Look, he was there presenting himself to be detained and the paperwork was not ready.' So there are two sides to everything," he says.
Hill says he can understand why the public might not be too happy with this system. He says he did not make up the rules, he is just carrying them out. Hill says his staff will be meeting with a number of judges Tuesday to talk about whether of not this is a practice that should continue.