Fifty-one inmates died in North Carolina’s county jails in the past five years after being left unsupervised for longer than state regulations allow, the Raleigh News & Observer reports in the first of a five-part series. Jailers failed to make timely checks, left in place sheets or towels that allowed suicide attempts, or didn’t fix broken cameras or intercoms that helped them keep in touch with inmates. The deaths of unsupervised inmates came in 38 different jails, in rural and urban areas. Twelve jails have been cited for violation of regulations in more than one death. In Dare County in 2012, Matthew Clayton Reynolds, 29, went nearly seven hours between checks, plenty of time to hang himself. “There were no rounds made the entire day,” a state report said of Reynolds’ death. “…It is clear that there was a gross failure to properly supervise inmates.”
At any given time, up to 24,000 inmates are held in North Carolina’s 113 jails supervised by elected sheriffs. They include inmates awaiting trial, some convicted of misdemeanors and a few federal prisoners. Often, the inmates who died had not been convicted of the charges that landed them in jail. Many were for lesser offenses such as illegal panhandling, drug possession and larceny, though some had been charged with more serious offenses, such as murder. A lack of supervision was blamed for one out of every three of the 151 deaths in county jails from 2012 to 2016. The deaths also expose the rising number of inmates who suffer from mental illness, drug addictions or both, and underline the importance for jailers to check on them frequently.