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Letter to the Editor: Stance Against Building New Jail


To the Editor: I am writing to express that I stand strongly against the planned construction of a new women’s jail facility in Buncombe county. After the recent death of inmate Michelle Smiley due to negligence of Buncombe County Detention Center staffers, and looking at evidence of systemic inequity faced by inmates, this $45 million prison facility should not be built at all, especially since there are concrete alternatives

It must me known that seventy percent of our jail population is low-level, nonviolent offenders, and an average of 51 of the county’s inmates receive treatment for mental illness daily, according to commissioner Stone’s report. 800 county inmates were monitored for substance abuse withdrawal, last year. Nationally, 95% of women who have been incarcerated have a trauma history

Furthermore, African American folks of age 16 and over comprise 28.1% of the Buncombe County inmate population, although they represent only 5.6% of the county’s population. That’s an overrepresentation of x5! In 2015, the average monthly earnings 20.8% lower for Black workers in Buncombe County compared to White workers

There are systemic barriers that keep certain folks from accessing stability, health and economic opportunity, yet Buncombe county would rather incarcerate those people than invest in working towards equity

Alternatives exist! On Feb. 21, 2017, at a Board of Commissioners meeting, the Buncombe County Justice Resource Center proposed an in-depth initiative that would invest $500,000 in at-risk, or underserved, communities. One goal was of “leveraging best practices to reduce the jail population, increase system efficiency and promote safety & wellness”. The plan will invest in neighborhoods, communities and businesses in order to build pipelines from schools to economic opportunity

Although commissioners unanimously approved this plan ( called the Isaac Coleman Community Investment Program), it doesn’t mean that the women’s jail won’t be built. Buncombe county citizens are going to have to loudly speak up against its construction. While people like Sheriff Van Duncan will continue to create a climate of emergency that portrays the new facility as an urgent necessity, we, the people of Buncombe county will see through this tactic

We will recognize that the criminalization of already marginalized people perpetuates injustice, especially towards African American women in Buncombe County. We will not stand for it, and will urge our representatives to endorse community investment programs instead

Sincerely, River Allen

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