From 1998 to 2017, 12 people committed suicide in the Durham County jail by hanging themselves from window bars or ventilation grates. Although public records show that Durham County officials were aware of the suicide hazards, the last updates are just now being finished to fix these hazards.
Although 144 of 576 windows were fixed after the 1999 death of Gregory Gibson, budget considerations prevented the rest of the windows from being altered. Five more people hung themselves before they were fixed for $88,900 in 2017.
Durham County Commissioner Wendy Jacobs responded to public comment about recent deaths, including 17-year-old Uniece “Niecey” Fennell in October of 2017, by asking her staff to research what caused the delays. While documents from the Sherriff’s Office seem to suggest that the office lacked the funding to make the improvements, the office does have to request funding from the commissioners in order to get it. Evidence suggests that the funding was not always requested, although county commissioners have consistently been in favor of addressing the hazards quickly.
As far as the ventilation grates go, Sherriff Mike Andrews has been working to fix them slowly since 2012. So far, 164 vents in 82 cells have been modified, and 988 vents in 494 cells remain. All of the window bars have been fixed.
Read more here.