ELIZABETHTOWN — In May, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser reviewed several reports from grand juries focusing on the conditions at Bladen County Jail, and he didn’t like what he read.
The result was a letter to county commissioners, County Manager Greg Martin and Sheriff Prentis Benston that urged attention get paid to remedying what he called a serious situation.
“It is imperative that repairs, renovations or replacements be made to correct this situation,” Sasser wrote. “I trust that you understand the seriousness of this matter and that appropriate action will be taken.”
Sasser’s letter was handed down to the county’s legal team at Johnson & Johnson law Firm in Elizabethtown and, after carefully studying the grand-jury reports, W. Leslie Johnson Jr. formulated a response to address the concerns.
“But the bottom line is this: we are all fully aware of and concerned with the conditions at the jail,” Johnson said. “But we are also just as aware of the fact that the county has little or no money. And I’m not really sure where we could find it; there aren’t any grants available for this.”
According to Sasser’s letter, the reports from the past few grand-jury tours of the jail pointed out such items as shower stalls without shower heads, holes in the walls and blocked drains; storage space needed; unusable electrical outlets; ventilation problems; overcrowding; and bedding needs in the women’s portion of the jail.
The reports also pointed out that mold and even black mold was found.
“It’s not the black mold that causes people to get sick,” Johnson said. “It’s more the usual mold in areas that haven’t been cleaned well and it looks darker.”
As far as the overcrowding, Johnson agreed that the jail is at full capacity and is currently sending inmates to area counties for housing.
“We have a good contract with Sampson County for that,” Johnson added. “But requests for a new jail just aren’t feasible right now. I think everyone knows that.”
The grand-jury reports also contained a few items like inmates needing a television and cells that need painting a lighter shade.
“I can’t even comment on things like that,” Johnson said. “That’s almost not even relevant.”
Sasser’s letter stated that he has attempted to get updates in the past about the jail, but has had no success.
“He has, but we just didn’t know what to tell him,” Johnson said. “We;’re doing what we can with what we have.
“We know that he (Sasser) has the authority to shut the jail down,” he added. “I’m sure he doesn’t want to do that, but he does want to be sure the jail is a decent place for the inmates and employees, alike.”
Johnson responded to Sasser’s letter recently, stating in a letter that the county is aware the jail is outdated and overcrowded.
“The commissioners have discussed this issue with County Manager Greg Martin and are fully aware of the capital needs of the jail,” Johnson wrote. “The commissioners have engaged a consultant and a feasibility study was completed in April of this year.”
Johnson went on to list the numerous improvements to the jail, including the fact that it was recently painted; the audio and video system upgraded; and a new heating and air-conditioning system installed.
He also stated that the pre-trial rel;ease program has been expanded to 30 inmates to help reduce overcrowding; a jail health-care program has been expanded; and six part-time jail employees have been moved to full-time.
“The county commissioners are mindful of the situation at the jail and are absolutely reviewing all of their options,” Johnson said.
Sasser has requested the county commissioners update him on the jail improvement efforts every 60 days.