NCPA Blog: What's On Our Mind
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August 11, 2017 - After Jail Deaths and Litigation, Some Courts Have A Secret

BY DAN KANE

Jessica Lynn Martin and Kelly Ann Green died within a year of each other after being booked in North Carolina jails. They were young women with serious health issues, and their families claimed that negligence in the jails contributed to their deaths.

Officials in Haywood and Stanly counties agreed to pay settlements to their families.

And in both cases, state Superior Court judges agreed to prohibit the public from finding out if any public money was paid to the inmates’ families. One judge initially didn’t follow the law on explaining his ruling, while the other judge made a finding as required by law but didn’t explain his order.

Generally, the details of settlements involving state and local governments are public record. The law does allow for an exception, but only after a judge has issued a written order that concludes “the presumption of openness is overcome by an overriding interest” that “cannot be protected by any measure short of sealing the settlement.”

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August 10, 2017 - More Than 150 NC Jail Inmates Died In 5 Years, Many From Mental Illness, Drug Addiction

BY DAN KANE

Roughly half of the 151 inmates in North Carolina jails who died in the past five years struggled with mental illness, substance abuse or both, state records show.

For more than a decade, North Carolina’s jails have been dealing with a sustained wave of inmates with mental illness that has increased the risk for deaths behind bars. Now, the more recent rise in opioid-addicted inmates has made the job even harder – and added to the death toll.

“Sheriffs will invariably say that ‘I as a sheriff of this county run the largest mental health hospital in the county,’ ” said Lindsay Hayes, project director of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives and an expert on jail suicides. “And they are right. They become the repository for a lot of our counties, our state problems.”

Nationally, suicides have been the leading cause of jail deaths since 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. In 2014, they accounted for slightly more than a third of all inmate deaths.

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August 9, 2017 - Why Jailers Aren't Being Held Accountable For Inmate Deaths

BY DAN KANE

North Carolina regulators have the authority to inspect local jails at any time when the care of inmates is in question. State law includes a provision to recommend charges against those who fail to provide proper supervision of inmates.

But for many years, the unit within the state Department of Health and Human Services tasked with making sure inmates are safe rarely investigated when one died. And state officials say they aren’t aware of any criminal charges being filed against a jail employee as a result of a DHHS investigation.

DHHS’ construction section only routinely began inspecting deaths in 2012, after a change of leadership – and the death of the 19-year-old grandson of a prominent Winston-Salem lawyer who went to sleep on a mat on the floor of an overcrowded Wake County jail and never awoke.

Ralph Madison Stockton IV’s death from a drug overdose resulted in a $250,000 settlement to his estate. He hadn’t been checked in more than an hour when he was found dead, DHHS determined.

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