Down Home members strongly oppose the proposed $16.5 million jail expansion in Haywood County, citing concerns over misappropriation of public funds and a lack of clarity over the true cost of the project. The official cost figure 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, Down Home Haywood believes 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," the press release stated. "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, the rise in incarceration in Haywood County between 2000 and 2018 was 133% while the population growth was just 8.4%. According to Sheriff Christopher, around 3.5% (3,900 people) of Haywood County’s population went through the detention center in 2019. Over 70% of people exiting detention don’t have a home to go to 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,” said 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 study done by Western Carolina University’s Dr. Albert Kopak in 2016 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 makes 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.
Down Home Haywood’s campaign will demonstrate the widespread community support for social services in the county that prevent incarceration. Down Home will encourage county leadership to examine the many evidence-based alternatives to detention that cost less and have better outcomes for the community.
Down Home North Carolina builds multiracial power with working people in the small towns and rural places in our state. Down Home members organize around the issues that they identify as most pressing in their communities. By organizing together, we can shape a democracy that serves working and poor people, where our labor and families are valued, and where our food, water, land, and communities are healthy.