Haywood County Doesn’t Need a New Jail.

The proposed $16.5 million jail expansion in Haywood County is a misappropriation of public funds. There remains a lack of clarity over the true cost of the project: The official cost figure presented represents only about 10% of the actual cost to expand the jail as it does not include staffing and other related operational expenses. 

As the rate of incarceration in Haywood County continues to increase at a troubling rate, our members believe that the County should invest in preventive measures that are proven to reduce the demand for incarceration at less taxpayer expense than the cost of a larger jail.

A growing number of people in Haywood are being incarcerated. According to the Vera Institute, a national organization that closely monitors the criminal justice system, there was a 133% increase in incarceration here between 2000 and 2018 while the population growth was just 8.4% during this same time.  According to Sheriff Christopher, around 3.5% (3,900 people) of Haywood County’s population went through the detention center in 2019 alone.  We know our community and know that our neighbors — that all of us– are good people. We don’t need to be incarcerated, we need opportunities and help. 

Sending people to jail causes problems instead of solving them. Over 70% of people exiting detention don’t have a home to go or support of any kind, which contributes to the high rate of recidivism.  

“Knowing what we know about jails and about our Haywood jail population, specifically–the prevalence of substance use and mental health disorders– we should not even be considering the option of building a new jail without first addressing unmet community needs that lead to people being jailed in the first place,” says Jesse-Lee Dunlap, Down Home Haywood’s local organizer. “We must address the reasons that the jail population is increasing, or the number of people behind bars will quickly fill a new jail to capacity, and we will be talking about another very expensive jail expansion in ten years.” 

A 2016 study done by Western Carolina University’s Dr. Albert Kopak shows that 85.5% of people in the Haywood County Detention Center have substance use disorder. Additionally, data from an NCHRC survey in 2019 shows that half the people seeking treatment for substance use disorder in Haywood County are unable to access it. The top reasons for this are, 1) no health insurance, 2) long wait times for a bed, 3) no transportation, 4) they were shamed, and 5) not knowing where to go for treatment.    

The widespread suffering that results from these conditions make clear the need not for more incarceration but for more preventive services and programs, such as addressing childhood trauma early on by ensuring access to therapy within the County school system, expanding access to evidence-based treatment options for substance use disorder, increasing funding for mental health services, reducing food insecurity, and providing more affordable housing.  

Additionally, inmates sometimes are denied basic human dignity while in detention. For example, there have been instances in the County jail when inmates have been left to bleed in their street clothes for days while menstruating, inmates are given one pair of underwear with only two opportunities in the week to wash that one pair of underwear, and people have been denied access to mental health services when requested. As part of the effort to stop an expensive and unnecessary jail expansion in Haywood County, Down Home members demand that inmates are treated with basic dignity while in detention. Treating local folks with basic dignity demonstrates to them that the County is invested in their rehabilitation and in their lives, and thus that the County is invested in the future of our communities.