Prison Reform

Prison Reform in North Carolina

In 2017, Public Safety Secretary Erik A. Hooks initiated a series of action steps focused on increasing hiring and retention; improving training for new and veteran employees; reducing contraband in prison facilities; and enhancing overall security policies and practices. These steps were also taken as result of employee deaths at Bertie Correctional Institution in April 2017 and Pasquotank Correctional Institution in October 2017.

Additional Resources/Information


Action Items

Immediate Response to Pasquotank

Immediate Response to Pasquotank

  • Conducted a complete facility search at Pasquotank Correctional Institution by 100 trained and well-equipped Prison Emergency Response Team members to look for evidence, as well as unrelated contraband in the facility immediately following the October 12, 2017 tragedy.
  • Shut down operations at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution sewing plant permanently.
  • Suspended more than 250 offenders who fit a specific profile of convictions for assaultive crimes from participation in Correction Enterprises operations that involve the use of cutting and/or impact tools until further risk assessments can be completed.
    • Implemented a new policy prohibiting those with convictions of a violent crime against a government official and/or law enforcement officer from being assigned to any work station utilizing or providing access to cutting and/or impact tools without expressed approval of the Director of Prisons.
  • Increased the number of correctional officers providing security in Correction Enterprises areas, and increased the number of rounds by the officer in charge within those areas until such time as we are able to conduct a full security review.
Actions Completed

Actions Completed

Enhancing Overall Security Policies and Practices

  • Requested the Governor’s Crime Commission (in June 2017) to research best practices nationwide in several areas of prison management and provide recommendations to the Secretary. The GCC’s final report with recommendations was provided to DPS in December 2017 and is currently under review.
  • Requested the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) to conduct an independent and comprehensive review of the safety and security operations at Pasquotank Correctional Institution (PCI), as well as all aspects of Correction Enterprises’ safety protocols following the October 12, 2017 tragedy at PCI Sewing Plant. In early November 2017, six NIC investigators conducted a complete review of the Sewing Plant at PCI and two other Correction Enterprises’ plants. The review included staffing patterns, inmate-worker placement assessments, training and operational policies and procedures. The NIC provided its report to NCDPS in January 2018.
  • Revised the Offender Disciplinary Procedures effective January 3, 2018. The changes strengthen the policy by upgrading certain charges to a higher level and, thus, will hold inmates more accountable for rules violations and discourage violent behavior.
  • Met with the three North Carolina US Attorney’s Offices, the Conference of District Attorneys and various law enforcement agencies to develop stronger partnerships with prison managers and to help encourage charges and prosecutions against both staff and inmates for criminal activity.
  • Enhanced partnerships for the sharing of intelligence and information between internal and external stakeholders to address criminal activity within prisons and increased the staff within the department’s intelligence unit to better manage intelligence gathering.
  • Established an intra-agency advisory committee to consider and recommend additional technology and individual devices to enhance the safety and security of Prisons and Correction Enterprises staff, prison facilities and plant operations. (Committee includes representation from Prisons operations, Adult Correction Special Operations and Intelligence, Legal, State Highway Patrol and Emergency Management). This committee is reviewing adding Tasers to the safety packages for correctional officer supervisory positions.
    • 3/15/18 update: Identified the need to have prison floor plans added to the State Emergency Response Application.
  • Purchased batons to fully equip correctional officers in medium custody facilities. Batons were already deployed to close custody facilities.
    • 3/15/18 update: Distributed to staff in medium custody facilities, and deployed a limited numbers of batons to select minimum custody facilities.
  • 3/15/18 update: Promoted enhanced two-way communication between facility heads and Prisons management through two statewide meetings, and one meeting between Correction Enterprises managers and facility heads, along with division management, to increase collaboration, safety, and security.

Increasing Hiring and Training

  • Increased our recruitment efforts and improved our hiring process, resulting in a 9.03% increase in correctional officer hires in 2017. Retention continues to be an ongoing challenge making the vacancy rate essentially flat.
  • Addressed the salary disparity between prison program section employees and correctional officers through in-range salary adjustments. Programs staff were not included in the recent salary study for correctional officers and did not receive salary increases; however, certified program staff often assist correctional officers with inmate counts and other supervision tasks.
  • Hired a full-time military recruiter who is establishing contacts with the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the North Carolina National Guard to increase the recruitment and hiring of military veterans to work as correctional officers.
    • 3/15/18 update: Hosted a DPS and NC National Guard career fair for military service members, veterans, spouses and dependents of service members on March 1. A DPS job fair is scheduled for April 18 at the Kerr Scott Building located at the State Fairgrounds.
    • 3/15/18 update: Redeployed four correctional employees to Human Resources, effective March 1, 2018, to work full-time on correctional officer recruiting.

Improving Training for New and Veteran Employees

  • Required newly hired officers to begin attending basic correctional officer training at the start of their second week on the job, following one week of orientation at their work location. This requirement was implemented in July 2017.
  • Directed Prisons to work with the Office of Staff Development and Training to eliminate the backlog of officers on the job who had not attended basic training. Backlog has dropped from 600+ to 120. All officers assigned a post are scheduled to be trained by March 2018.
    • 3/15/18 update: Essentially eliminated the backlog for Basic Correctional Officer Training. Certified officers who can be scheduled will be trained by end of March 2018. Less than 50 officers remain on a backlog and cannot be scheduled due to sick, military or type of leave. They will be scheduled for Basic Training when they return to work.
  • Added two hours of situational awareness training to the Basic Correctional Officer curriculum effective January 2, 2018. In addition, four hours of in-service situational awareness training has been developed for various facility staff and will be deployed in early 2018.
    • 3/15/18 update: Started situational awareness training in March for Correction Enterprises employees to improve their knowledge of what’s happening around them and how to identify risks in a changing environment.
  • Met with the Community College System to discuss ways to further collaborate in the delivery of training to new hires and managers in order to provide a better pathway to promotion for officers as well as supervisory training.
    • 3/15/18 update: Partnered with the Community College System to host situational awareness training for Correction Enterprises, and Field Training Officer training. Development and implementation of management training is a component of the strategic plan workgroup focusing on training new and veteran employees.

Reducing Contraband in Prison Facilities

  • Enhanced the Prisons entry/exit policy, making it mandatory for individuals entering most prisons to undergo a pat/frisk search procedure to discourage and prevent contraband. This went into effect October 16, 2017.
  • Ordered and installed more Cell Sense towers in prison facilities ensuring that all facilities are fully equipped with the cellphone detection devices aimed at preventing the entry of cellphone contraband.
  • Requested prison perimeter patrols by the State Highway Patrol aimed at preventing throwovers of contraband.
    • 3/15/18 update: Requested sheriffs to incorporate prison perimeter patrols by deputies. Directed Community Corrections officers to patrol prison perimeters when in a prison’s vicinity.
Ongoing/Pending Actions

Ongoing/Pending Actions

Enhancing Overall Safety and Security

  • Ordered a review and audit of the safety and security of all Correction Enterprises operations. Those reviews are ongoing.
    • 3/15/18 update: Completed security reviews of Correction Enterprises operations.
    • Suspended Correction Enterprises operations temporarily at Lanesboro Correctional Institution Metal Products Plant and Caledonia Correctional Institution Cannery to conduct safety, security and accountability audits. The security audits have been completed and operations have resumed at the Caledonia Cannery.
      • 3/15/18 update: Completed security review at Lanesboro Metal Products Plant, and operations have resumed.
    • A security audit has also been completed at the Central Prison Laundry.
  • Security audits are currently pending at the Pender Correctional Institution Sewing Plant, Scotland Correctional Institution Sewing and Braille operations and the Apex Warehouse.
  • Created a Security Accountability Unit within Prisons. Working with the National Institute of Corrections, this unit will help develop new safety audit training, policies and procedures and ensure regular and comprehensive safety audits occur at all prison facilities. Security Accountability Unit staff will be trained by NIC while conducting a security audit of three prison facilities in February 2018.
    • 3/15/18 update: Completed train-the-trainer National Institute of Corrections training for Security Accountability Unit staff and facility staff who teach other auditors while conducting targeted security audits of three prison facilities in February 2018. When fully staffed, the security audit unit will have 14 positions.
  • Directed Emergency Management to work with Prisons to integrate the floor plans of the state’s prison facilities into the State Emergency Response Application (SERA).
    • SERA is a secure web-based application designed to assist first responders, law enforcement and emergency managers in efficiently responding to hazards and threats at fixed sites.
    • SERA will provide prison profile and process information, as well as spatially display prison floor plans, key assets and vulnerabilities for first responders. This information can be crucial for first responders when responding to an emergency.
    • 3/15/18 update: Identified $250,000 to use for integration of prison floor plans into SERA. The anticipated completion date of adding the prison floor plans is April 2018.
  • Directed staff to complete a comprehensive review and update of all Prisons and Correction Enterprises policies and procedures.
    • 3/15/18 update: Eliminated any Correction Enterprises tool and key control policies that were in conflict with Prisons policies.
  • Requested NIC to review and revalidate inmate classification protocols.
    • 3/15/18 update: Worked with NIC technical assistance team in NC in December 2017 and February 2018. The estimated completion date for recommendations to revalidate the custody classification instrument is summer 2018.
  • Ordered a thorough review of the inmate assessment policies utilized to assign offenders to Correction Enterprises and other work operations. Working with NIC to identify best practices.
    • 3/15/18 update: Sent NC work assignment policies to NIC for review in February 2018. Close custody inmates will be removed from Correction Enterprises assignments involving cutting and/or impact tools, effective June 1, 2018.
  • Ordered stab resistant shirts for the 13,000 certified employees who work in prisons which are intended to be part of the daily uniform to increase personal safety.
    • 3/15/18 update: Received an initial shipment of stab resistant shirts at one facility. Prisons will train its facility staff on sizing requirements to facilitate an efficient production and delivery schedule.
  • Developed a long-range strategic plan for upgrading, purchasing and installing additional or replacement video cameras in all facilities. We will seek funding to do so.
    • 3/15/18 update: Completed a priority list of facilities in need of upgrades, and OSBM re-allocated $1.5 million in initial funding to support this project.
  • Developed a plan to provide body alarm technology to all prison employees through radio device upgrades and lanyards designed as personal alarm technology for sending notification and location information in critical situations. We will seek funding to implement. 
    • 3/15/18 update: Seeking funding for this initiative. Prisons and Emergency Management are collaborating to determine if same or similar technology and infrastructure can be used for prisons and school panic alarms. Pilot testing will begin in Spring 2018.

Hiring and Retention

  • Implementing a plan to provide e-mail accounts to the approximately 9,000 correctional officers who do not have email access, to improve communication channels to those employees. The plan will be implemented in stages, with approximately 3,000 correctional officers getting e-mail access by the end of 2018.
    • 3/15/18 update: Identified funds to support one-time costs associated with the project. The plan will be implemented in stages, with approximately 3,000 correctional officers getting e-mail access by early summer 2018.
  • Conducting a comprehensive review of the current cumbersome hiring process to provide a more efficient and customer-friendly experience.
    • 3/15/18 update: Completed an assessment of the hiring process completed with the assistance of a process engineer from the Department of Revenue. One recommendation already implemented is moving the administration of the Correctional Officer Physical Abilities Test (COPAT) from a pre-employment to post-employment assessment. New hire correctional officers’ initial COPAT attempt will come during Basic Correctional Officer Training (BCOT). If they do not successfully complete the COPAT, they will be given two other attempts during their probationary employment period. Successful completion of COPAT is a condition of continued employment.
    • 3/15/18 update: Launched a single statewide posting for all levels of correctional officers March 1. In addition, applicants can now search by county for correctional officer vacancies.

Improving Training for New and Veteran Employees

  • Implementing a new Field Training Officer (FTO) program to provide on-the-job training for new correctional officers. The new FTO program is modeled after the prior Mentoring program and will incorporate elements of the current Career Readiness program. Training for new FTOs will begin March 1, 2018.
    • 3/15/18 update: Selected approximately 300 correctional officers to serve as Field Training Officers. Training for FTOs is underway. FTOs will review policy and procedures and perform specific tasks with new hires and work alongside them in the facility before new correctional officers are assigned to work a post independently. In addition, FTOs will provide support and encouragement for new COs who still need to pass COPAT. More than 100 FTO facility coordinators were trained in February 2018.

Reducing Contraband in Prison Facilities

  • Contracted with a vendor to install Managed Access System (MAS) equipment in 2018 at two close custody prisons. MAS is a radio frequency technology that is deployed within the facility perimeter, building locations, housing areas, etc. to detect, intercept and block the use of unauthorized cellphones. This disrupts the use of cellphones for unauthorized calls, text and data transmissions to the outside of the facility. The technology also includes drone detection alerts, providing notice of incoming drone activity.
    • 3/15/18 update: While preparing for installation of Managed Access equipment at two facilities with one-time funds previously identified for this project, the Department continues to evaluate emerging cellphone disruption technology to determine the most effective manner. Additional funds are needed for ongoing costs at the two MAS facilities and implementation of comparable technology at other locations.
  • Started the process of planning and installing additional fencing to increase the perimeter from exterior to interior areas where people can retrieve items (contraband) thrown over the fence.
    • 3/15/18 update: NIC security audit training identified the need for additional fencing at Franklin Correctional Center and installation is underway.
Next Steps

Next Steps

  • Establishing a Prison Reform Advisory Board consisting of experts in the field of corrections. The board members will provide ongoing expert advice on best practices for maintaining prison safety.
    • 3/15/18 update: Selected seven Prison Reform Board members and a chair for the board. The first meeting is scheduled for March 20.
  • Appoint a designated project manager who will work with the Prison Reform Advisory Board, employees at all levels of the agency, the Office of State Budget and Management, Fiscal Research staff, as well as external stakeholders, to help ensure all prison safety action steps are achieved and identify and initiate further steps as needed.
    • 3/15/18 update: Named Tracy Little as Special Assistant, focusing on prison reform, in January 2018.
  • Improve internal and external communications with respect to prison operations.
    • 3/15/18 update: Met with SEANC leadership to foster better communication with employee representatives. Chief Deputy Secretary Young and Prisons Director Lassiter have visited 13 facilities to meet with staff, with more site visits planned. A video of CDS Young answering questions about his first month on the job was posted to the DPS website. Director Lassiter videotaped a message provided to Prisons employees.
  • Enhance correctional officer recruitment efforts to include development and implementation of a marketing strategy, rebranding of NC Prisons and updating correctional officer recruitment materials.
    • 3/15/18 update: Working with the Department of Commerce Labor Economic Analysis Division (LEAD) to analyze the existing workforce for potential correctional officer candidates. The Department is also collaborating with Commerce’s Division of Workforce Solutions to ensure its recruitment efforts are reaching potential applicants in the community. DPS is also analyzing the demographics of its existing correctional officers and will overlay that data with workforce availability in order to develop targeted recruitment materials.
  • Conduct a comprehensive review of the current Basic Correctional Officer training program and in-service training for supervisors.
    • 3/15/18 update: Created a committee that is actively reviewing the Basic Correctional Officer Training curriculum. The committee is conducting a comprehensive analysis that includes reviewing length and modifying the curriculum to better align with newly hired correctional officer’s knowledge base.
  • Complete reviews of the Governor’s Crime Commission December 2017 report and the National Institute of Corrections January 2018 report to further outline a strategic plan for additional immediate needs and items to be implemented over time.
    • 3/15/18 update: Developed a strategic plan draft framework, with five workgroups established. The workgroups are Enhance Security Policies and Procedures, Reduce Contraband in Facilities, Improve Training for New and Veteran Employees, and Increase Hiring and Retention, and Improve Communication with Internal and External Stakeholders. Workgroup meetings are scheduled to begin the week of March 19.
  • Engage the General Assembly to address immediate safety security equipment needs as well as policy changes.
    • 3/15/18 update: Identified existing DPS funding to provide email access for correctional officers, enhance IT security at facilities by upgrading computer firewalls, purchase moveable towers to increase line-of-sight security within prison grounds, provide security package (batons, pepper spray) for certified program staff, and purchase computer tablets for use in Basic Correctional Officer Training.
  • Engage the General Assembly to address hiring and retention concerns -- salary, hiring incentives, and other retention needs.