Last month, 16 percent of the state’s prison officer positions were vacant, up from 9 percent in January 2016. Better staffing might have saved the lives of the five prison employees who died in attacks this year at two prisons.
Staff shortages in North Carolina’s prisons have climbed to dangerous levels over the past two years, despite state efforts to attract more officers, the Charlotte Observer reports. Last month, 16 percent of the state’s prison officer positions were vacant, up from 9 percent in January 2016. Better staffing might have saved the lives of the five prison employees who died in attacks this year at two Eastern North Carolina prisons, experts and officers said. In April, when Sgt. Meggan Callahan was killed at Bertie Correctional Institution, one of every five correctional officer positions there was vacant. At Pasquotank Correctional Institution – where four employees were fatally injured during a failed escape attempt on Oct. 12, more than 28 percent of officer positions were vacant, up from 17 percent three years earlier.
Just one prison officer oversaw more than 30 inmates inside Pasquotank’s sewing plant when the violence erupted. Inmates stabbed employees with scissors and beat them with hammers, according to a prison disciplinary report. The staff shortages leave prison officers vastly outnumbered. That makes it easier for inmates to acquire weapons, cellphones and other dangerous contraband – and easier for them to attack. Anthony Gangi, an advocate for prison officers, said the high number of vacancies in North Carolina could result in more deaths and injuries. “Ultimately it could lead to an unsecure facility. And an unsecure facility is a threat to the public,” said Gangi, who hosts a radio talk show about corrections. “The inmates know what we do. They know what areas we’re deficient in. And they’ll take advantage of that.” The prisons have been losing even more officers than they are hiring.