How and why North Carolina counties decide to build or expand jails, the costs of those decisions and possible alternatives.

Illustration by Mariano Santillan / Carolina Public Press

Many North Carolina counties are betting their futures on bigger jails, guided by consultants who could profit from designing them. Counties don’t always weigh the long-term costs of putting their money on bigger jails instead of other options. Relying on revenue from  housing inmates for other governments could cost counties more than they earn, especially if that revenue stream dries up. But advocates for reform are pointing to legislative and policy alternatives that could eliminate the need for repeatedly building more cells. Raising Jails is made possible in part with support from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, a national foundation that supports the investigative reporting efforts of independent journalists and news organizations, and through the support of readers like you. You can support nonpartisan in-depth and investigative journalism in North Carolina from our nonprofit newsroom by becoming a member today.

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Adjacent cells at the Catawba County Detention Center in Newton, which were undergoing renovations in September. Jordan Wilkie / Carolina Public Press

NC counties base jail decisions on controversial consultant work

Recommendations to build bigger jails often come from same firms that land jail design contracts. Consultant methods may stack deck in favor of big investments in jail construction.

From left, Kathy Greggs, Serena Johnson and Paul Taylor protest Oct. 5 in front of the Cumberland County Courthouse in Fayetteville, demanding the county stop evicting people. They see criminal justice reforms tied to other social policy changes and advocate for money currently spent on the jail to be reinvested in public housing or violence intervention programs. Jordan Wilkie / Carolina Public Press

Beyond jails: Exploring policy changes to reduce need for bigger jails in NC

Many urban counties have cut jail populations through reforms, but rural counties have seen increases in inmates.

Resources: A look at data on building jails in North Carolina


This series is produced by the news team of Carolina Public Press.
Reporting by Jordan Wilkie.
Photos by Anthony Crider, Melissa Sue Gerrits, Colby Rabon and Jordan Wilkie.
Illustration by Mariano Santillan.
Graphics by Anna Deen.
Editing by Frank Taylor and Laura Lee.

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