Maggot-infested mashed potatoes. Rodent feces in the food warmers. Inmates denied toilet paper and medication.
To those who have followed the movement protesting conditions inside the Durham County Detention Facility, such allegations aren't news. The jail has been dogged for a year with claims of inhumane treatment of inmates. Assault charges against two detention officers in December and the January death of twenty-nine-year-old inmate Matthew McCain have only added to the chorus of voices demanding accountability.
Last week, Durham County announced that an independent agency—albeit one under the umbrella of county officials—paid an unannounced visit to 219 South Mangum to have a look around. The impetus was a formal complaint filed by a citizen on behalf of an inmate.
"The detention center was due for an inspection—by general statute, we're supposed to investigate it once a year," says Chris Salter, environmental-health division director of the Durham County Department of Public Health. "So while we were there to look into the complaint, we went ahead and did the complete annual inspection."
The DCDPH didn't find much: just a broken dishwasher and a clogged toilet, for a total of three demerits. A jail needs twenty demerits to be given a provisional approval—in other words, probation—and forty demerits to fail. The complaint was deemed invalid. Tamara Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Durham County Sheriff's Office, characterized the inspection as "favorable" for the jail.
Steve Lorenz of the Inside-Outside Alliance, an organization that has been fiercely critical of the jail, says he questions how unscheduled the DCDPH inspection actually was.
"The jail is under a lot of scrutiny right now," Lorenz says. "And I think a significant portion of the community doesn't trust the symbiotic relationship between the county health department and the county jail. They know there's growing support for a community-based investigation into the jail, and this is clearly an attempt to forestall that."
Late Friday, the sheriff's office announced that a state regulatory body had recently conducted a review of McCain's death. The INDY requested the report but has not yet received it.