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Monday, May 27, 2024

Jail staffing among NHC business Tuesday

A request for more staff at the New Hanover County Detention Facility is among new business commissioners will consider at their regular meeting Tuesday—their only regular meeting this month.

At an agenda review meeting Thursday, Sheriff Ed McMahon told commissioners the average daily jail population has increased by about 100 inmates over the past year, resulting in an officer-to-inmate ratio of one officer per 64 inmates.

“In my opinion, it’s just unsafe,” McMahon told the board. “It’s unsafe to the officers; it’s unsafe to the inmates.”

McMahon is requesting eight additional officers, though he notes that another eight are also needed. Those officers would be budgeted for in the fiscal-year 2013-14 budget process, but eight officers now would cost $268,760 for the remainder of the current fiscal year, he said.

McMahon noted the increase in inmates to officers correlates with increased risk of assaults on officers, assaults on other inmates and attempted suicides. McMahon said 20 officers have been assaulted this year, while inmate suicide attempts total 16.

Commissioners chairman Jonathan Barfield noted he and vice chairman Jason Thompson had toured the facility recently and saw the conditions firsthand. Barfield said he knew he couldn’t do the officers’ job, while Thompson said he felt like they were going to get “beat up.”

Smiling, commissioner Brian Berger added, “I spent a little bit of time there,” referring to his brief incarceration earlier this year. Jokingly, Thompson replied, “You know what it’s like.”

Despite the circumstances, Berger said the facility’s officers stood out professionally.

“I found from firsthand experience that the professionalism of the officers there is commendable,” Berger told McMahon, who thanked him in response.

The board will consider the request at Tuesday’s meeting, following a closed session at 1 p.m. to consult with legal counsel on potential litigation and a personnel matter. The board meeting will start at 2 p.m. in the assembly room of the New Hanover County Historic Courthouse, 24 North Third St., in Room 301.

Other business on the agenda includes six public hearings on requests for rezoning and special-use permits and amendments to the county’s planning review procedures. The agenda can be viewed in detail here.

Jonathan Spiers can be reached at (910) 772-6313 or

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