Video visits with inmates and participation in a federal immigration enforcement program were two of the flashpoint issues at the Mecklenburg County sheriff's forum Thursday night at Little Rock AME Zion Church.
Running the county jail is one of the main responsibilities of a sheriff. Recently, Sheriff Irwin Carmichael replaced in-person visits with video visits. The first two a week are free but after that, they are $5 for 10 minutes and $12.50 for 25 minutes. Carmichael said it was about convenience for families and inmates.
“They love it," Carmichael said. "We have support. Again it’s about creating more access. That was the whole reason of doing this.”
Former CMPD homicide detective and sheriff candidate Gary McFadden said he would allow both video and in-person visits. City of Charlotte Human Resources manager and candidate Antoine Ensley said he would also bring back in-person visits.
“Meeting someone in person is fundamental to people healing, even in confinement," Ensley said. "We can’t treat people in confinement like they are less than human beings.”
The topic generated a lot of questions at the forum sponsored by the NAACP. Anna London said her father is in the Mecklenburg County Jail for a DUI. She said video chats cannot replace an in-person visit.
“I want to see my dad. I want to hug my dad," London said. "Other counties, you are allowed to go sit next to them in a room and hug them. And my dad was an amazing dad and the first 18 years of my life he was clean and sober.”
Another controversial program in the sheriff’s office is 287(g). Carmichael's office has been signed onto the program since February 2017. It allows the sheriff’s office to partner with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to screen and detain immigrants living in the U.S. illegally after they are brought to the Mecklenburg County jail. Carmichael says its help identify who comes into jail. But Candidate McFadden said he wouldn’t renew the agreement if elected because it has had other negative effects.
“As a law enforcement officer, it damages the relationship between the community and law enforcement," McFadden said. "We cannot get witnesses to come forward.”
Candidate Ensley says he’s against the program because it separates families.
According to ICE, Mecklenburg County flagged roughly 1,300 inmates living in the country illegally last year. About 290 were deported.
The primary election is May 8. There are no Republican candidates running in the race so the winner of the Democratic primary will be sheriff.