Blog: DPS Dispatch

For Asian-American and Pacific Islander Month, the health care team at N.C. Correctional Institution for Women has recognized seven members of its nursing staff.   Prisons' nurses have proven themselves many times over during the pandemic, said Dr. James Alexander, NCCIW healthcare facility administrator. "It goes without saying that the past year and more of COVID has been exceedingly difficult," Alexander said, "and it has been nurses such as our Asian-American and Pacific Islander family that have enabled us to be as successful as we have."  

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Rapid molecular testing is anticipated to save Prisons time and money N.C. Prisons has invested in a newly approved COVID-19 testing platform, eliminating the need for outside labs to test for the virus. Lab manager Katie Gaffney of MD-BIO (right) walks Central Prison medical personnel -(from left) lab technician Donna Sulton, nurse director Elissa Brody and lab technician Kenyetta Johnson - through the procedures during a training session for a new molecular testing system

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With new COVID-19 cases on the decline, prisons providing vaccinations to all incarcerated individuals who want the vaccine; and  vaccines now widely available in communities across the state; the N.C. Department of Public Safety is wrapping up a project that provided quarantine space to recently released offenders who may have been exposed to COVID-19 prior to release. This group would have otherwise been homeless or didn’t have a stable home to go to following completion of their sentences.

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Prisons leadership this week honored several employees – including North Carolina’s Warden of the Year - for their outstanding work, tireless dedication and extraordinary achievements in the past year. “These men and women represent the best of our best from across the state,” said Todd Ishee, Commissioner of Prisons. “They are hard-working, innovative and deeply committed to their jobs, their colleagues and to the care of the men and women in our custody. They deserve recognition and accolades, particularly during this year of pandemic.”

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Las vacunas han cambiado el juego Ha pasado un año desde que la pandemia golpeó por primera vez al sistema penitenciario estatal. Hemos soportado un terrible año de angustia, sorpresa, adaptación y perseverancia; también hemos pasado por la iniciativa de vacunación masiva más compleja logísticamente desde el lanzamiento de la vacuna contra la poliomielitis en la década de 1950. El arduo trabajo está dando frutos; las vacunas están marcando una gran diferencia; están funcionando.

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The ongoing pandemic temporarily halted in-person educational programs in every state prison due to restrictions placed on outside visitation by instructors, as well as community colleges stopping classes. But it did not stop the N.C. Field Minister Program from moving forward into its fourth year at Nash Correctional Institution.

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The Division of Prisons works tirelessly to train offenders for life back in the community. Educational and job training opportunities abound in the state’s 50-plus facilities through Correction Enterprises and other avenues, but the majority of those opportunities benefit male offenders. Thanks to its continuing partnership with The College at Southeastern in Wake Forest, a program geared toward female offenders is now in place at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh.

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Updated 3-3-2021: Requirements for the ELC program were recently ammended. Offenders with projected release dates in 2021 will be reviewed for possible participation in ELC. A review does not guarantee participation. Navigating the uncharted waters of a modern-day pandemic has been difficult and challenging for everyone, particularly for people working and living in congregate housing settings. That’s one reason DPS is using existing provisions in state law to reduce the prison population to help reduce the spread of the virus.

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Jerlene Epley, one of hundreds of employees who worked at Western Youth Institution during its 41 years of operation, saw it built from the ground-up. On Saturday, June 11, she will see the “High Rise” fall back to the earth. The 89-year-old Epley, one of the first female employees hired when the Morganton prison opened in 1972, will be on-site this weekend when the former 16-story facility is imploded to make room for a regional N.C. National Guard training center.  Staff of the Western Youth Institution during the facility's early years (above) and the building earlier this year.

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Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, offenders in North Carolina prisons who needed specialty visits to outside medical centers for treatment of physical ailments could spend an entire day traveling across the state to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, transported by correctional officers. That could provide security challenges depending on the facility’s vacancy rate. During this pandemic, transportation outside of a facility also brings the potential for COVID-19 infection.

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Ground was broken on the imposing stone fortress known as Central Prison in Raleigh 150 years ago as convicts wielded shovels and chipped granite blocks from a nearby quarry to build its 30-foot walls. It took 14 years to finish the job started on Jan. 6, 1870. Central Prison has been in continuous service since it opened in 1884. The project cost $1.25 million. Much has changed since those simpler, harsher times.

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Former warden Dennis Daniels looks back with a sense of pride and accomplishment on his nearly 40 years of service in the only fulltime work environment he ever knew.  Daniels, 61, who retired in November, said, “This is a tough job to walk away from, especially when this is what you’ve done every day of your working life. It’s in your bones. There’s something in those of us in corrections that want to get up and go to prison. I’ve been told ‘Maybe there’s something wrong with your head?’ But it’s all I’ve ever done.”

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Members of the Prisons’ Special Operations Response Team, along with a member from the Prisons’ Special Operations Target Interdiction Team (Snipers), placed third overall in the 2019 North Carolina Tactical Officer’s Association 26th annual SWAT Competition at the NC Justice Academy in Salemburg last month.

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Two North Carolina prisons’ food service personnel were honored recently by the Association of Correctional Food Service Affiliates’ Annual International Conference Vendor Showcase in Memphis. Central Prison Correctional Food Service Manager Conell Chapman was presented with the 2019 ACFSA Operator of the Year Award, while Maury Correctional Institution Food Service Manager Clarence Godley received the ACFSA Heroism Award for his actions during Hurricane Florence.

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