State Temporarily Reconfigures Buncombe Prisons

RALEIGH

RALEIGH — A staffing shortage at two Asheville-area prisons has led to a temporary reconfiguring of staff and offenders.

Craggy Correctional Center and Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women both have significant staff vacancies. To create safer staff-to-offender ratios, the state prisons system this week temporarily closed one unit at Swannanoa and reassigned 25 correctional staff from that unit to Craggy.

The 64 offenders who were housed in the suspended unit will be transferred to other women's prisons. About 75 offenders will remain at Swannanoa.

"We're taking these measures to ensure the safety and security of our staff and our offenders," said Prisons Commissioner Todd Ishee. "We have consolidated operations and staffing at 30 prisons in the state as a result of chronic staffing shortages at all 55 of our facilities."

Offenders remaining in Swannanoa will maintain enrollment in work, education or other rehabilitative opportunities. Transferred offenders will have similar opportunities at other state prisons.

North Carolina prisons had a 20.3 percent vacancy rate in June, the most recent data available. Functional vacancies, or positions that are filled but the staffer is unable to work — due to illness, COVID-19 exposure, family emergency, military commitments, etc. — were 31.59 percent in June.

"Our staffing issues predate the pandemic, but COVID-19 didn't hasn't helped matters," Ishee said. "Also, the present economy is creating special challenges for our recruiting efforts."

Prisons has scheduled hiring events across the state, publicizing the benefits of state employment, the opportunity to make a difference and the possibility of receiving an on-the-spot job offer, conditional upon a background check. Additional hiring incentives are under budget consideration.

Gov. Cooper's budget proposed a Step Pay Plan to correct salary compression in Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice. Besides being a financial tool to retain veteran and more ambitious officers, the Step Pay Plan creates a career path, outlining what combinations of skills and experience are needed to advance in the ranks and earn higher salaries.

Both the House and Senate versions of the budget contain line items such as pay raises that would make officer salaries more competitive. 

"We're hoping the budget provides the tools we need so that we aren't just filling holes, but also recruiting professional-minded candidates and retaining the ones we have," Ishee said.

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