The board was created after five prison workers were killed by inmates. Its first meeting focused on how the state can hire more prison workers, convince them not to quit, and keep them safe and properly trained.
Most North Carolina prison inmates are there for the most serious types of felony convictions, such as violent criminals, sex offenders and big-time drug dealers. The correctional officers in charge of watching over those inmates often lack backup; none has panic alarms worn on their bodies; and they lack body armor that could protect them from being stabbed. They are equipped with mace, and their radios have alarms. Many of those radios are broken, and the state has trouble hiring radio technicians to fix them. And even when they are working the radios aren’t always able to get a signal out through the thick prison walls, the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Those were just some of the issues raised Tuesday by a new group that’s supposed to find ways to reform North Carolina’s prison system. The members of that group — a mix of current and former prison workers, state employee advocates and outside experts — were asked to solve the many issues facing the state’s overcrowded and understaffed prisons after the deadly year that state prison workers faced in 2017, when five employees were killed by inmates. The new Prison Reform Advisory Board is led by Beth Austin, the first female general of the North Carolina National Guard, who retired from the military in December. The main focus of the first meeting was on how the state can hire more prison workers, convince them not to quit, and keep them safe and properly trained. Kenneth Lassiter became the head of the prison system last April. He said that even though North Carolina’s prison population has been falling for a decade, prisons still have too many people in them. There are more than 2,500 vacant jobs at the state’s 55 prisons, and a recent hiring spree hasn’t been able to stop the number of empty jobs from growing.