Hearing from Stakeholders: Employees Offer Suggestions for Prison Safety

Thursday, December 28, 2017 - 11:09am

Secretary Hooks and some of his executive team continue gathering feedback from employees about safety in prisons through listening sessions and other venues. They are hearing from employees across the state at all ranks and levels of experience. From brand new correctional officers with just months on the job to those with ten to twenty years, as well as sergeants, lieutenants and above, a wide variety of employees have been voicing concerns and making suggestions on how to improve operations and make prisons safer.

The most recent listening sessions took place at Lanesboro Correctional Institution in Anson County and Albemarle Correctional in Stanly County. The employees from custody, programs, medical and maintenance discussed many topics including salaries, benefits, staffing and the tools that seem to be working for safety. They also offered suggestions on ideas that they feel could help.

One recurring concern is equity in pay for correctional officers who are classified as Correctional Officer I working at a minimum security unit, but being frequently being called up to work at a unit housing medium or close custody inmates and not receiving the pay that correlates with the higher custody level. In some instances, case managers are being asked to help with inmate counts or holding certain posts normally held by an officer and they feel they are not compensated appropriately.

Another concern is the staff vacancies and how that impacts the need for officers to work overtime, which can result in mental and physical exhaustion. Vacancies also impact the opportunities for staff to attend training because they must fill posts, which means they are not able to grow professionally and improve skillsets.

Some suggested more training for new officers to not only build self-confidence, but to also build the confidence of others in the new employees. Many were pleased to hear about a new position called Field Training Officer that will be a blend of the old Mentor program and Career Readiness to extend the training experience for a new officer beyond Basic Correctional Officer Training.

Employees expressed concerns about growing gang activity and encouraged consideration of better pay for those who work in Security Threat Group (gang) units. They also expressed a need for more safety gear. They were pleased to hear about the plan to add more officer down technology and other uniform improvements to improve safety.

Many other areas of concern and suggestions touched on staffing patterns, additional training needs, policy adjustments, employee recognition and improvements in communications. Employees were very appreciative of the one-on-one interaction with Secretary Hooks and his Executive Team. A few with ten years or more on the job commented they had never had the opportunity to participate in such forums. More visits will be scheduled in the coming year and leadership continues to respond to letters and e-mails from across the state.