DPS Report to Legislators: The Safety of Our People is Top Priority

shoulder of corrections officer in uniform
Monday, February 25, 2019 - 8:52am

On Feb. 21, Department of Public Safety leaders briefed legislators on ongoing efforts to reform the state’s prison system, stressing the safety of employees remains paramount.

Much of the presentation by Tracy Little, deputy secretary for Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, to the Joint Legislative Appropriations Subcommittee on Justice and Public Safety focused on what is needed to make sure facilities are manned to safely supervise offenders and ensure the protection of prison staff. 

“The biggest challenge we face is adequate staffing,” Deputy Secretary Little said. To address this critical challenge, DPS is attacking the problem from all angles, from revamping the recruitment process to relocating interviews for correctional officers (that were conducted at regional sites) back to the specific facility where the applicant would be working. 

While acknowledging that changes in the hiring process are needed, DPS leadership recognizes the issue is as much about retention as it is recruitment. Employees need professional development and morale-boosters. Deputy Secretary Little outlined a growing number of retention efforts, incuding funds for employee professional development and a statewide Prisons employee recognition program designed to complement local facility recognition programs and the DPS-wide Badge of Excellence. This past week, correctional Employees of the Year were recognized. 

Also this past week, prison managers from across the state met for a leadership development workshop led by Gary Mohr, senior executive advisor for prison reform. Mohr joined DPS last fall with an impressive 44-year background in corrections, including leading Ohio’s department and serving as the current president of the American Correctional Association. 

Mentorship and professional development are key components to retain and prepare employees for a career in this vital area of criminal justice, according to Deputy Secretary Little. One initiative pairs each new correctional officer with an experienced officer —one that is not the new officer’s supervisor. As Mohr has remarked: “We need more coaches than referees” to assist new staff. 

At the presentation, legislators saw the equipment that is now standard issue for certified staff across the state. All correctional officers and case managers now are equipped with an expandable baton, higher-grade pepper spray and a radio. In addition, 10,000 stab-resistant vests have also been issued to facilities.  Meanwhile, a pilot program is testing personal body alarm “man down” technology to respond to assaults against staff.

Other security enhancements already in place or in progress include an expansion of video cameras in facilities, law changes that strengthen penalties for crimes committed against staff, and campaigns to deter and intercept contraband.

For the last 20 months, North Carolina’s Prison Reform Advisory Board has been working to determine how the state can strengthen the safety and security of its prisons following the tragic events that occurred in Pasquotank and Bertie correctional institutions in 2017. North Carolina’s prison reform will continue to draw upon the collective wisdom of what is working in other states and nationally.

Click here for more details on North Carolina’s prison reform efforts.

George McCue