- Improve staff training
- Hire more guards
- Investigate the cause of these inmate deaths
“Supervision failures” imply lapses in judgement on the job, poor management of underlings, or a department’s collective incompetence led to dysfunction and inefficiency. Not a sixteen year old girl hanging herself with a bed sheet in a jail cell. Not an ill man dying of pneumonia in a jail cell because he was denied medical attention. At best, the solutions suggested by the editorial oversimplify the problems inherent in mass incarceration; at worst it obfuscates a culture of abuse and neglect, then suggests funding the problem instead of addressing the cause.
Yes, train and properly staff every jail and prison; investigate every lapse in supervision, and not just the incidents resulting in death but each medical emergency and attempted suicide; call on the general assembly to appropriate and invest more funds in the safety and security of the state prison system. These are necessary responses to the increased number of suicides and “supervision failures” in North Carolina jails and prisons.
The NC Republican legislature can also vote to give judges greater discretion in sentencing and eliminate mandatory minimum sentences allowing courts the ability to divert more offenders to mental health facilities and drug treatment centers. Legislators could also hold prosecutors accountable for over-incarcerating addicts for simple things like paraphernalia and public intoxication charges. The general assembly could even release the remaining 3 of 12 million dollars allocated for the NCDPS mental health department in 2014. These changes would directly impact jail and prison populations across the state, and remove some of the burden put on overworked, underpaid staff.
Does being charged with a crime mean one deserves less adequate medical care and consideration as a human being? Focusing on a jail’s bureaucracy and staffing policies underscores a fundamental flaw in how incarcerated citizens are perceived. Rather than be recognized as complex beings with more needs than the average person, prisoners are devalued beneath the shade of incarceral policies. Instead of acknowledging how deinstitutionalizing the mental health system has wrought catastrophic damage on the penal system – there are calls for more guards. The N&O editorial, in its reasoning, fails to mention how the courts criminalize mental illness because draconian drug laws show no mercy to addicts, and city ordinances and the VA further alienate homeless veterans. Not even a token word about drug courts, involuntary commitments from the jail to mental health facilities, intake screening, or other viable alternatives to jail.
Overrelying on incarceration as a panacea to crime exposes every weakness in the criminal justice system. More suicides occur in jail because more addicts and mentally ill people are incarcerated, not treated. Jailors are not orderlies or mental health professionals and expecting them to fill such roles is disastrous policy. Jails are not asylums. Before lasting changes can be made to the safety and security of NC’s jails and prisons their occupants must be treated humanely, and with the recognition by staff they are not things in a warehouse. Maybe then the general assembly and NC Prison Reform Commission can address every failure in the criminal justice system, not just those that support their tough-on-crime rhetoric.