At a maximum-security prison that has been plagued by violence, more than one of every three officer positions was vacant in January. The vacancies there have climbed sharply over the past year. Prison leaders have required many officers to work overtime, which can lead to burnout and fatigue.
Dangerous staff shortages have worsened inside some of North Carolina’s toughest prisons, despite recent state efforts to address the problem, the Charlotte Observer reports. At Lanesboro Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison that has been plagued by violence, more than one of every three officer positions was vacant in January. The vacancies there have climbed sharply over the past year. Prison leaders have tried temporary measures to maintain order. They’ve required many officers to work overtime, which can lead to burnout and fatigue. State Rep. Justin Burr, whose district includes the Albemarle prison, said, “They’re retiring. They’re quitting. They don’t want to put their lives in danger.” The officer vacancy rate at Albemarle has more than tripled – from 7 percent in January 2017 to 25 percent a year later.
Prison leaders are trying a different approach at Lanesboro: They’re sending in members of the Prison Emergency Response Team, which is made up of officers from various prisons. About 37 percent of positions at Lanesboro were vacant in January, up from about 22 percent a year earlier. One officer at Lanesboro said some officers are working nine straight days or consecutive 16-hour shifts. The prison is so short-staffed, she said, that two officers are sometimes left in charge of overseeing 200 inmates in the cafeteria. In the past, one former officer said, there were twice that many officers stationed there. If a gang battle broke out, staff members could do little to stop it, the current officer said. “I think it’s critically dangerous,” she said of the prison’s staffing shortages. At Pasquotank Correctional Institution, where four employees were fatally attacked during an October escape attempt, the overall vacancy rate in January was about 37 percent.