Commentary

This week’s “must read” about North Carolina government

Image: NC Dept. of Public Safety

There are a lot of ways in which the conservative obsession with doing government “on the cheap” is limited in its effect on the citizenry. Potholes and crumbling roads, closed parks and rest stops, court delays and rising college tuition: these problems are real and often hugely problematic, but often manageable for those affected — at least in the near term.

And then there are matters that are “life and death” — matters in which inadequate public services and structures undermine the basic health and well-being of the population. Inadequate healthcare policies like North Carolina’s failure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act certainly headlines this list. This cruel decision has meant premature death for thousands of North Carolina in recent years. In some sense, however, it can at least be argued that these deaths — however tragic — are acts of omission. At least North Carolina didn’t affirmatively kill anyone.

And then there are the areas in which failed public structures are actual affirmative killers and deniers of fundamental human rights. As a special series running in Raleigh’s News & Observer  this week by reporters Dan Kane and David Raynor highlights, that particular horror is something that is happening with alarming frequency in North Carolina’s prisons and jails. Part One of the series commences by telling the tragic story of Emily Call — a young mother struggling with addiction who committed suicide while being improperly supervised in the Wilkes County jail:

“Emily Call was one of 51 inmates who died in North Carolina’s county jails in the past five years after being left unsupervised for longer than state regulations allow, a News & Observer investigation shows. Jailers failed to make timely checks, left in place sheets or towels that prevented them from seeing suicide attempts, or didn’t fix broken cameras or intercoms that helped them keep in touch with inmates.

The deaths of unsupervised inmates came in 38 different jails, in rural and urban areas. Twelve of the jails, including Durham, have been cited for violation of regulations in more than one death.”

The story goes on to shed additional light on the magnitude of the problem, the huge factor played by mental illness and the thus far inadequate response of state and local officials. The N&O even had to pay under protest for the records it obtained as a result of the McCrory administration’s stubborn and longstanding refusal to abide by open records laws — something the Cooper administration has remedied.

In the days ahead, there will be more disturbing stories about this horrific situation — both from the N&O and from the protection and advocacy group, Disability Rights North Carolina. All caring and thinking North Carolinians should pay close attention and demand swift action from state leaders.

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