Cochran told commissioners that the jail houses anywhere from 70 to 90 prisoners any given day, but many of them are not Swain County inmates. Swain is one of many counties in the state that receive a daily stipend for holding other people’s prisoners — there are inmates from the Eastern Band Cherokee Indians, state prisons and those awaiting federal court hearings. Since they technically aren’t Swain’s own inmates, they can’t be put out on work detail.
Then, there are those being held on serious crimes. The county jail is currently home to 13 suspected murderers, although there have not been that many actual murders. Eight suspects are related to one murder and three to another.
“We can’t put them out there,” Cochran said of those being held on murder charges.
There are also six people in jail on sex crime charges.
“We can’t put them out there,” Cochran said.
Once you subtract all those inmates, there are only about a handful or so left who could, in theory, be allowed out for clean-up duty.
Plus, Cochran said, whenever prisoners are let out of jail, there is a risk, and if anything happened, county leaders would be responsible.
“What if they find a gun or a knife or drugs?” Cochran said. “It’s just a huge liability.”
While Cochran’s example may seem a bit far-fetched, someone stopped by police who has drugs in their car could decide to toss them to the side of the road before the officer reaches the car. Really, anything is possible, he said.
Cochran cited an instance when the Haywood County inmates found a cell phone while cleaning up the roadways. They then proceeded to use the phone — a privilege not allowed when incarcerated.