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Mecklenburg sheriff responds to staff shortages, jail violence

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden says he is working to address staff shortages at the Mecklenburg County jail, but at a news conference Friday, he told reporters the problem may partially be out of his control.

McFadden said he had been working to hire more staff and reduce the jail's population for months — and long before he received a letter from state inspectors this week that gave the jail 60 days to correct problems related to staffing and violence.

In the letter dated Feb. 9, state inspector Chris Wood said staff at the Mecklenburg County jail had routinely failed to check up on inmates at least two times an hour in November and December of 2021.

Wood also wrote that the jail routinely fell short of the 80 staff members needed per shift. Many shifts were short between 10 and 15 staff members, and some days the jail was short up to 29 workers.

McFadden said Friday he had been trying to hire more staff at salaries starting at $52,000, which he called "top dollar," but suspected that negative stories in the press were scaring away potential candidates.

"You instill fear and anxiety into the hearts of people who may want to come here by negative content day after day after day after day," he told reporters.

However, McFadden also acknowledged the jail was not unique in its struggle to find and keep employees at a time when many workers across multiple industries have been quitting at record rates.

McFadden said he had also been trying to reduce the jail's population by relocating inmates to other detention centers in the state but had run into difficulty there as well.

"I contacted 100 sheriffs across the state of North Carolina — well, 99 not including myself — 99 sheriffs across the state. Only five agencies responded with help," he said. "They don't have room for me to send anyone anywhere."

He said he had also reached out to U.S. attorneys, the public defenders' offices for Mecklenburg County and the state of North Carolina, the U.S. Marshals office, and other court officials for help reducing the jail population.

McFadden said his office was still drawing up a required plan of action for state inspectors, and he said he had already implemented some measures designed to address staffing and violence at the jail.

According to the state inspector, there were 454 incident reports at the jail from Jan. 1, 2021, through Dec. 9, 2021. Many of them were considered serious, including assaults on staff and inmates with weapons, and searches that turned up homemade weapons.

McFadden said he had assembled a group of 16 employees into a "Tactical Response Unit" that is focused on addressing troublesome areas inside the jail and working with inmates to identify and confiscate weapons. The jail had also initiated a new overtime policy limiting how many hours an employee can work in an effort to prevent burnout.

McFadden said since November 2021, there had been no assaults involving weapons at the county jail.

He also praised his existing staff, repeatedly describing them as "battle-tested," and he noted that while more than 1,200 COVID-19 cases had been identified inside the jail during the pandemic, there had been no COVID-19 deaths.

The sheriff did not take questions following his remarks.

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Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal