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Blog post: NCDHHS late with new report on Durham jail. Why?

By Monica Chen

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services conducts semi-annual inspections of all county jails in North Carolina.

That means the newest inspection report for Durham County Jail, which was last inspected in September, was due in March. It’s now May. Where is it?

In April, Sara Maleski, a paralegal at DHHS, sent me the September report. On the newest inspection, she wrote: “An inspection was just conducted but is not yet complete.”

OK. That was almost a month ago. How long does it take to finish a report?

“The semiannual surveys are unannounced,” said spokeswoman Summer Tonizzo last week when I checked back.

You don’t say. But, wasn’t the inspection already conducted and we’re just waiting on the report? What’s the hold up?

To give readers an idea of how simple these reports are, this was all the substance the September report had: “This inspection found no deficiencies, no corrective action is necessary, and no further action on your part is required.”

The Durham County Jail has been in COVID lockdown, continuously, since March 2020. That means all of its inmates have been in solitary confinement for three years. Serious questions have been raised about the jail’s staffing problems. There was a 90-person vacancy there last summer. And Durham activists have said Sheriff Clarence Birkhead has admitted to them there is a staffing problem, not COVID like Birkhead has told the media.

So it should be a simple thing for DHHS to acknowledge that there is an illegal and inhumane COVID lockdown at the Durham jail.

Why isn’t the DHHS doing its job?

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