New Durham detention director aims to stem suicides

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — The man now overseeing detention in Durham County wants to cut suicide behind bars.

Col. Anthony Prignano, 49, has been promoted to the Director of Detention Services at the Durham County Detention Facility. Prignano will oversee the Durham County Detention Facility and its 232 employees.

“Col. Prignano is working with an excellent staff that will benefit from his experience, training, and support,” said Sheriff Mike Andrews. “I’ve charged Col. Prignano with the daily assignment of making the detention facility better than it was the day before.”

Prignano joined the Sheriff’s Office in 1995 as a detention officer and quickly rose to several supervisory and management positions within the Agency.

“I’m eager to return to the place where I got my start at the Sheriff’s Office,” said Prignano. “Providing detention services is a great responsibility and an honorable profession.”

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He says he’s ready to tackle challenges at the jail.

“I see each step as an opportunity to improve,” he said.

One priority on Prignano’s list of improvements is preventing future in-custody suicides.

In March, Uniece Fennell, 17, died in her cell.

The Sheriff’s Office says she was found hanging from a bed sheet attached to a window.

“In the cells, if you would, there was an opportunity to use certain parts of that cell to assist in suicides,” said Prignano. “So, we are covering up, using some grates”

After Fennell’s death, her family called for change.

“This has to stop,” said Tarshella Fountain, Fennell’s sister. “Suicides. Abuse.”

Prignano says it’s a priority to make sure every cell in the facility is modified with new vents, and adding a back covering on windows to prevent sheets from hanging.

Seventy-two cells have been modified.

“Looking at the overall picture, regardless, you always want to say, ‘Ok, where are my weak spots, where can I improve, and where can I do things better,’” he said.

Prignano says he plans to move forward with bringing mental health pods to the jail.

Prignano was among several applicants who participated in a screening process conducted by an independent consultant firm. The search committee consisted of corrections experts, former jailers, and community members. They reviewed each application, conducted interviews, and made a recommendation to the Sheriff.

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