2018 North Carolina Jail Occupancy Rates

Local jails are an important part of the state’s criminal justice system. Jails house, among others, individuals held pretrial, serving sentences, and held for federal and other authorities. In this report and in the accompanying spreadsheet (here), we provide information about North Carolina jail occupancy rates. Among other things, we find that:

  • 50% of counties exceeded in-county jail capacity for at least one month in 2018; and
  • 64% of counties exceeded 90% of in-county jail capacity for at least one month in 2018.

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Medical Fees for Jail Inmates

Constitutionally and statutorily, the sheriff is responsible for the well-being of the jail inmates committed to his or her custody. “It is but just,” the supreme court once wrote, “that the public be required to care for the prisoner, who cannot, by reason of the deprivation of his liberty, care for himself.” Spicer v. Williamson, 191 N.C. 487 (1926). Still, a jail can charge certain fees.

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Evaluating the Sincerity of an Inmate’s Religious Beliefs

Inmates do not forfeit the right to practice their religious faith while they are incarcerated. But of course that right is not unlimited. Officers can impose certain restrictions when an inmate’s religious practices would conflict with the institution’s legitimate interests in safety, security, and good order. There is a lot of case law about those restrictions, both as a constitutional matter under the First Amendment, and under a federal statute, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a)(1)–(2)—which is even more protective of inmates’ rights than the Constitution.

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Jail Inmate Disciplinary Procedures

By administrative regulation, North Carolina’s jails are required to have written policies and procedures on inmate rules and discipline. 10A NCAC 14J .0203(a)(5). The only thing the jail regulations tell us about the substance of those policies and procedures is that they may not use food as a reward or punishment. 10A NCAC 14J .0902. Beyond that, the framework for how a jail should handle inmate disciplinary procedures is a question of constitutional due process. A recent case from the Fourth Circuit reminds us what process is due when a jail responds to alleged misbehavior by an inmate.

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Mail Regulation in the Jail

Handling mail to and from inmates is a challenge for jail administrators. Of course they want to enable inmates to handle their legitimate business (including pending legal matters) and maintain family and community ties. On the other hand, they must be on guard against contraband or inappropriate materials coming into the jail, or inmates participating in crimes or planning an escape from within. Inmates have a constitutional right to communicate with others and to access the courts, but those rights are limited by the jail’s obligation to preserve security, good order, and discipline. This post collects some of the basic legal principles that should be incorporated into the jail’s policy on mail regulation. By state administrative regulation, every jail must have a written policy on handling inmate mail.

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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.

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Vaping Behind Bars

North Carolina inmates are not allowed to have tobacco products, and other people are not allowed to give tobacco products to them. This session, the legislature changed the law—twice—to address the use of vapor products (like e-cigarettes) in our prisons and jails. Today’s post discusses those changes, beginning with some background on existing law. My … Read more