Blog: DPS Dispatch

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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D.J. Loftis could not hold back her tears as she said thank you to a team of people for training her family’s service dog, Apollo. Apollo is a recent graduate of the “At Both Ends of the Leash” (ABEL) program at Warren Correctional Institution and is able to recognize her son’s seizures before they occur. “You don’t realize the positive impact these dogs have on our lives,” Loftis said. “Our son is in a much safer place with Apollo around. He can alert us to a seizure within one to 55 minutes before it happens. That means so much. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

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Under an innovative therapy program, offenders in Central Prison have been crafting Christmas ornaments before the holiday season. The work is therapy. The offenders are on the mental health caseload at the state’s largest prison. “I tell you, they are the most innovative people anywhere,’’ said Sue Etheridge, an art therapist at the prison. “This is good therapy. It lets them focus on something outside themselves. In confinement like this, people tend to get lost in their own thoughts.”

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RALEIGH - On Aug. 20, the Prison Reform Advisory Board began work on composing its recommendations on best practices for maintaining prison safety to Secretary Erik A. Hooks. The Board, appointed by Sec. Hooks last year, was created to review best practices regarding policies, programs and services to ensure the safety and security of the state’s prison system. They reviewed topics including health services, training, staffing, technology, communications and programs.  

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North Carolina prisons work extremely hard in balancing custody concerns with programming that teaches offenders skills to be put to use back in the community when sentences are served. This year at Lincoln Correctional Center, offenders grew so many fruits and vegetables that there wasn’t enough space at the facility. So, they donated more than 2,400 pounds to two local non-profits for their use. “This was a great way to give back to the community,” said Lincoln CC Warden Sam Dotson (center in photo on the right). “The offenders felt good about doing this.”

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The latest graduates of the Prison Emergency Response Team (PERT) basic training have joined an elite group of correctional officers in North Carolina. Prisons’ Chief of Security Kenneth Smith has often referred to PERT as, “the agency’s greatest resource due to the sheer numbers, experience and the broad scope of mission capabilities.”

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Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution licensed practical nurse Jane Smith was heading home from work on May 7 on U.S. 421 in Vilas like any other day when traffic came to a halt. “A lady was running up the road screaming and I asked if anyone was hurt,” said Smith, who will celebrate her twentieth year at the facility in January. 

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Everyone loves to eat. Now, as far as food preparation goes, that’s another story. Central Prison Food Service Manager Conell Chapman loves food. He loves to eat, and he loves the process of preparation. Chapman also loves imparting that wisdom to offenders and prison staff, not just at Central Prison in Raleigh but to other prisons, county jails and federal facilities in North Carolina, across the country and Canada.

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There’s a special kind of therapist making the rounds at Catawba Correctional Center. Her name is Lou Lou. “Good morning Lou Lou,” is echoed every day when folks encounter the friendly greeter. She’s not an official employee, but more like a volunteer who gets paid with an occasional dog treat or a pat on the head. Lou Lou is the facility mascot, a dog serving as a daily reminder of the value of the life and joy she brings as man’s best friend to many men and women inside the fence at Catawba.

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