Sheriff Graham Atkinson: Surry County faces continued overcrowding at jail

By Andy Winemiller -

STATE ROAD — Surry County will shell out nearly $400,000 to neighboring counties during this fiscal year.

At the Surry County Board of Commissioners’ annual planning retreat in State Road recently, Sheriff Graham Atkinson told commissioners his department spends a lot of money reimbursing other places to house Surry County inmates.

“We are going to spend $367,000 this year to farm out our inmates to other counties,” said Atkinson, noting the figure falls in line with prior fiscal years.

The number only includes fees charged by other jails. Other costs incurred include man-hours for transportation personnel as well as wear and tear on vehicles in transporting inmates.

According to Josh Jenkins, a supervisor at the jail, personnel have spent an average of 2,000 miles per month on the road transporting inmates, a figure which equates to nearly 50 hours on the road a month.

Atkinson told commissioners the Surry County Detention Center is capable of housing about 125 inmates. On the day of the retreat, the location was — like most days — filled to capacity. Overflow must be sent to other facilities.

In a follow-up interview Atkinson said those facilities charge Surry County about $40 to $60 a day to house inmates. Many males end up in Yadkin County or Forsyth County, but on any given day Surry County has inmates spread across the state.

Atkinson noted the county had been sending female inmates to Ashe County’s new detention center. However, a new sheriff in that county is not accepting inmates. Personnel at the Surry County jail must call around to find an open female slot somewhere else in the state.

Atkinson told commissioners one fix to the female inmate issue could be opening another female wing at the jail, but then the jail would lose beds for male inmates. Surry County’s facility can house up to 19 female inmates.

Inmates who need mental health services must be sent to facilities that can handle those special needs, said Atkinson.

The sheriff was hesitant to put a number on how many beds would constitute a sufficient facility, but on Wednesday if all Surry County commitments had been brought under one roof the county would have to house 256 inmates.

Atkinson said many issues have created the overcrowding problem. Crime is on the rise, and the jail is housing offenders accused of crimes, including murder, who are awaiting trial – sometimes for months before the court date. The state prison system is also no longer housing those convicted of misdemeanor crimes and DWI charges.

The inmates are now housed by way of an unfunded mandate, said Atkinson.

In the end, commissioners opted to allow a contractor already performing a facilities study on county properties to consider possible solutions at the jail.

Courthouse security

Security at the Surry County Courthouse has been a concern for a number of years. It has been mentioned at the past three planning retreats for county commissioners.

“We need to define what security is,” Atkinson told commissioners. “It could be a deputy at the door, or it could be snipers and Concertina wire.”

Currently there is a metal detector at the courthouse, which also houses the county’s Board of Elections, Register of Deeds and Tax Department. On occasion the machinery, which was given to Surry County by another county, is manned by deputies.

Atkinson said he recently visited another county’s courthouse in the state. That county was using 33 deputies to secure the courthouse, as it has multiple entrances.

Surry County’s courthouse also has multiple entrances, said Atkinson. He would favor restricting access to one door in order to funnel all traffic through a secured area. He would also favor utilizing technology to supplement manning at the door.

The courthouse was also added to the buildings the facilities study contractor would assess in its study.

By Andy Winemiller

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

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