MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — The clock is ticking for Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office to make changes at the jail after state officials found deficiencies during a biannual onsite inspection and complaint investigation.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services conducted a jail inspection in December and found staffing shortages pose an imminent threat to the safety of both the inmates and staff. It also found an increase in injuries and requested an immediate decrease in inmates at the jail.

“Prior to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Inspection, MCSO began addressing staffing shortages at MCDCC by reducing the juvenile population and reallocating personnel from the Mecklenburg County Juvenile Detention Center to the MCDCC,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the jail will be required to submit a plan of correction on or before March 11, 2022.

The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office says they continue to make corrections “to address troublesome areas within the detention center and to enhance the safety and security of personnel and residents.”

MCSO says the creation of a ‘Tactical Response Unit’ has yielded contraband and homemade weapons in the facility which were confiscated. Assaults have also reportedly decreased.

A new overtime policy, according to MCSO, “ensure adequate staff is inside the detention center to respond to calls or requests for assistance.”

“Since the implementation of this policy, we have not had personnel working extended hours and have been able to operate much more efficiently because we have an adequate number of personnel,” said an MCSO spokesperson.

The state conducted the inspection of the jail on December 21 and concluded it had too many inmates and not enough staff. They asked MCSO to cut the jail’s population by 400 inmates immediately.

In response to the request, the Sheriff’s Office said it was working with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety on transferring inmates to other facilities and working to identify inmates who were eligible for release.

“The movement of the 400 residents that they’re talking about should have been done a long time ago,” a Mecklenburg County Detention Officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Queen City News in an exclusive interview in January, “Something should have been done a long time ago, but again it was business as usual until they got caught.”

The Mecklenburg County Detention Officer shared his concerns working at the facility.

“You come to work, first of all, you don’t know if you’re going to get assaulted or stabbed,” he said.

2019 saw a total of 21 assaults on detention officers, in 2020 there were 44 and in 2021 there were 82 assaults on detention officers. The man who spoke to Queen City News is one of them.

“They know assaults were going on. They knew the assaults were increasing, yet nothing was done to protect staff,” he said. “I believe gangs in the facility now are a lot more prevalent than what they were. They run the housing units; they manage the phones. They pretty much run the building.”

Officers are now reportedly retiring and quitting at a rapid pace.

“I work with a lot of great people. They’re tired. They’re broken. They’re frustrated and they’re scared. They need help,” he said.

In a statement provided Thursday, Sheriff Garry McFadden said, “We are continuing to proactively address all of the issues in the detention center and I’m really proud of the efforts being made by my staff and the collaborative approach by other key criminal justice stakeholders as we work through our staffing challenges.”

The officer who spoke with Queen City News in January, however, says efforts by the small staff to deal with the large number of inmates aren’t working.

“The Sheriff’s into de-escalation tactics,” he said. “De-escalation tactics are great. They work, but they don’t work when you’re outnumbered 1-50 in a housing unit.”

Queen City News reporter Morgan Francis contributed to this story.