Another Step Toward Zero Tolerance for Staff Assaults

Monday, August 13, 2018 - 4:46pm

Tougher consequences now await offenders in North Carolina’s prison system who assault staff members, as the Division of Prisons takes another step to provide the safest working and living environment for staff and offenders. 

With security and safety in the state’s 55 prisons a top priority, effective immediately, Prisons has elevated the severity of consequences associated with staff assaults.

“With prison staff facing assaults more frequently from violent offenders, we must reinforce zero tolerance against an offender assaulting our staff and let everyone know there will be consequences,” said Director of Prisons Kenneth Lassiter. “This policy enhancement will create a better environment within our prisons and ultimately contributes to public safety. We will also continue working with local law enforcement and district attorneys in pursuing criminal charges in cases where offenders assault our correctional officers and other staff members within prison walls."

The consequences for any offender assaulting staff will include:
•    Pending the decision of the Director’s Classification Committee, the offender will be placed on restrictive housing for a minimum of 12 months, subject to periodic review thereafter. After the offender is released from restrictive housing, he/she will be placed in the Restrictive Diversion Unit program. The disciplinary process and the classification process remain separate and are handled by different committees.
•    Subject to the disciplinary process, the offender could forfeit all previously accumulated Good Time, Earned Time and Meritorious Time. The offender will not be eligible to earn any future Good Time, Earned Time or Meritorious Time on his/her current sentence.
•    Personal visitation privileges will be suspended for a minimum of 12 months, with the possibility of a 24-month suspension. Once visitation privileges are restored, only non-contact visits will be allowed for the remainder of the offender’s sentence. The facility head will review the offender’s case annually to determine whether these restrictions can be lifted.
•    The offender will immediately be placed on the Interstate Compact Program list for consideration for out-of-state housing for a minimum of five years.

The new policy does not circumvent the current Inmate Disciplinary Policy (B .0200, for any assault on staff. The current procedures for infractions are still in place, as are assessments by Prisons mental health professionals, prior to the new restrictions being added to the charged infractions. Assessments for inmates suffering from mental health issues will be reviewed according to policy. The Classification Committee determines where someone is housed and for how long. 

“An offender who demonstrates a complete lack of consideration for the human life of a staff member must be managed and housed more stringently,” said Director Lassiter. “The consequences outlined in this policy revision are unrelated to the disciplinary process and have been deemed necessary to gain compliance.”

This change is part of the continued effort to improving the prison environment for employees and those incarcerated with the ultimate goal of making the prisons safer. In January, the Offender Disciplinary Procedures were strengthened by upgrading certain charges to a higher level. 

Last month, the General Assembly enacted Session Law 2018-67 (House Bill 969), which expanded the state law related to “malicious conduct by prisoners” to include throwing, emitting or causing to be used as a projectile any bodily fluids, excrement or unknown substance at an employee. The bill also toughened the penalty for exposing genitalia to an employee, providing tools to offenders for escape, and offenders possessing forbidden articles or tools to affect an escape or to aid in an assault or violent uprising. 

“Since becoming Director, I have heard from many prison staff that inmate discipline needs to be tougher,” said Director Lassiter. “Secretary Erik Hooks and our leadership team feel strongly that correctional professionals deserve to work in an environment that is as free as possible from malicious and harassing behavior from offenders. When an offender commits a violent act against staff, they need to be held accountable by policy that discourages such behavior.”

Jerry Higgins