State threatens to shut down Beaufort County’s Detention Center

WASHINGTON, N.C. (WNCT) – The Beaufort County Detention Center has been put on notice by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services for violations inside the jail.

In a letter Sheriff Ernie Coleman dated March 22, 2017, the state cited life safety code deficiencies inside the jail.

Cobey Culton with DHHS said inspectors noticed a lower membrane of the floor/ceiling firewall was missing. They later found out Beaufort County had removed that layer, a fire-rated gypsum board, back in 2001 without notifying the state.

“We didn’t go through their architectural review group and get permission to do this, which we didn’t,” said Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson. “That was an oversight on our part.”

The state requires a firewall separate the jail from the occupied first floor of the Beaufort County Courthouse.

However, county officials are confused exactly what they have to do to fix the deficiency. Richardson said the gypsum board was removed to prevent inmates from climbing up through the ceiling and escaping into the courthouse.

One of the big questions is what fire code the county has to abide by, since the jail opened in the 1970s.

“Rules apply today as they applied then,” he said. “So it’s not a matter of upgrading the jail to meet a new standard, we have to meet the standard of when the jail was built.”

The jail has been a hot button issue in the county, with commissioners having heated discussions over whether to build a new detention center in the Chocowinity Industrial Park in the past.

Several commissioners have said they may be forced to revisit that idea if the price tag to fix the issues inside the current facility is too high.

Richardson said he won’t support the construction of a new jail.

“It’s not going to spark that issue, and if it does, you’re going to have the same kind of opposition that you had before,” he said.

The county has until June 27 to submit plans to correct the life safety code deficiency.

In previous inspections, the detention center was also cited for lack of natural light, overdue fire alarm inspections, peeling paint, and dirty showers.

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