What can a jail do when an inmate becomes unmanageably dangerous, or unmanageably vulnerable, or unmanageably sick? Or what about when so many people are arrested at once that the jail cannot house them all? In those situations, the jail may seek to have the inmate transferred to the state prison system through a safekeeping order.
Under G.S. 162-39, a superior or district court judge may transfer an inmate from a local jail to the state prison system if the inmate:
- Poses a serious escape risk;
- Exhibits violently aggressive behavior;
- Needs to be protected from other inmates;
- Is a woman or person 18 years of age or younger for whom the county does not have adequate housing;
- Is in custody at a time when a fire or other catastrophe has caused the jail to cease or curtail operations; or
- Otherwise poses an imminent danger to the jail staff or other inmates.
If a judge issues such an order, the sheriff is responsible for conveying the inmate from the jail to prison, and for returning him or her to the jail when necessary.
The prison system houses safekeepers in one of several facilities, depending on their age, sex, crime, and medical needs. For example, adult male felons are held in Central Prison or Craven Correctional Institution; misdemeanants are held at Neuse Correctional Institution; and women are held at North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women. The full list of safekeeper facilities is set out in Department of Public Safety policy. By statute, the total safekeeper population may not exceed 200 inmates at any given time without approval from the Secretary of Public Safety. G.S. 162-39(e).
Some special conditions of confinement apply to inmates held in safekeeping. For example, they are generally held separately from the general inmate population, do not participate in work programs, and are not eligible for any sentence reductions credits. N.C. Dep’t Pub. Safety Policy & Procedures § C.1604.
Safekeeping transfers custodial responsibility for an inmate from the county to the state, but not financial responsibility. The county must pay the prison system $40 for each day of the transferred inmate’s confinement, plus inpatient medical expenses, outpatient medical expenses exceeding $35 “per occurrence or illness,” and certain dental and optical expenses. G.S. 162-39(c).
Apparently some counties have fallen behind on their safekeeper payments: the state budget requires the Department of Public Safety to issue a report including a “list of the counties in arrears for safekeeper payments owed to the Department.” S.L. 2015-241, sec. 16C.11. A related provision requires the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association to withhold Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Program reimbursements from any county that is more than 120 days overdue on its safekeeper bills, and to instead transmit the SMCP payments to DAC until the safekeeper debt is satisfied. Id. sec. 16C.12.
Speaking of the SMCP, inmates housed through it may—for reasons similar to those described above—be transferred to prison via a separate safekeeper provision in G.S. 148-32.1(b3). Use form AOC-CR-623 to request and order such a transfer. Payments to the prison system for inmates transferred under that provision come from the Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Fund, not from the county.