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

Actions Completed

Actions Completed

Immediate Response to Pasquotank

  • Conducted a complete facility search at Pasquotank Correctional Institution (PCI) 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 PCI 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.

Enhancing Overall Security Policies and Practices

  • Requested the Governor’s Crime Commission (GCC) 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.
  • Requested the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) conduct an independent and comprehensive review of the safety and security operations at PCI, as well as all aspects of Correction Enterprises’ safety protocols following the October 12, 2017 tragedy at the PCI Sewing Plant. In early November 2017, six NIC investigators conducted a complete review of the PCI Sewing Plant 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 DPS 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.
  • 8/10/18 update: Added sanctions to the Offender Disciplinary Procedures regarding assaults on staff. Click here for memo.
  • Met with the three North Carolina U.S. 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 identified the potential security advantages of adding tasers to the safety packages for correctional officer supervisory positions.
  • 6/21/18 update: Three-day instructor training completed. Developing training module for staff who will be authorized to use tasers as part of a pilot project at four close-security facilities. Policy under development and legal review.
  • Purchased batons to fully equip correctional officers in medium custody facilities. Batons were already deployed to close custody facilities. Distributed to staff in medium custody facilities and deployed a limited number of batons to select minimum custody facilities.
  • 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. 
  • 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 custody-related 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. 
  • Redeployed four correctional employees to work as full-time correctional officer recruiters, effective March 1, 2018.
  • 6/21/18 update: During March, April and May, job recruiters participated in 124 events generating nearly 400 applicant leads. Hosted a career fair at Pasquotank Correctional Institution on June 20.

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. As of early 2018, the backlog was essentially eliminated, with the exception of officers who cannot attend due to a medical issue, military or other type of leave. These staff are scheduled for Basic Training when they return to work.
  • 6/21/18 update: From January through May 2018, 701 new hires successfully completed Basic Correctional Officer Training.  
  • Added two hours of situational awareness training to the Basic Correctional Officer curriculum effective January 2, 2018. Completed situational awareness training in early May for 238 Correction Enterprises employees to improve their knowledge of what is happening around them and how to identify risks in a changing environment. In addition, four hours of in-service situational awareness training has been developed for various facility staff and will be deployed beginning July 1, 2018.
  • Identified existing funds and purchased computer tablets for use in Basic Correctional Officer Training.
  • Met with the Community College System to discuss ways to further collaborate in the delivery of training to new hires and managers to provide a clear pathway to promotion for officers, as well as supervisory training.

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 contraband throwovers. Requested sheriffs to incorporate prison perimeter patrols by deputies. Directed Community Corrections officers to patrol prison perimeters when in a prison’s vicinity.
  • 6/21/18 update: Effective June 1, discontinued distribution of original incoming mail envelopes to inmates, excluding legal mail. Envelopes are now copied and, along with approved contents, provided to inmates. 
Ongoing/Pending Actions

Ongoing/Pending Actions

Enhancing Overall Safety and Security

  • Established 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.
  • 6/21/18 update: The board has met twice - March 20, 2018 and June 19, 2018. Remaining 2018 meetings are scheduled for September 12 and November 14.
  • Appointed 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, as well as identify and initiate further steps as needed. Named Tracy Little as Special Assistant, focusing on prison reform, in January 2018.
  • Completed 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. Developed a strategic plan framework, with five workgroups established: Enhance Security Policies and Procedures, Reduce Contraband in Facilities, Improve Training for New and Veteran Employees, Increase Hiring and Retention, and Improve Communication with Internal and External Stakeholders. Workgroups began meeting in mid-March 2018.
  • Ordered a review and audit of the safety and security of all Correction Enterprises operations. Completed security reviews of all Correction Enterprises operations. Corrective action has been taken at many Correction Enterprises locations. A list of additional cameras and fencing needed has been compiled, and installation is being prioritized and coordinated with other Prisons security projects. 
  • 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. 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.
  • 6/21/18 update: Five security auditor positions have been filled. An audit tool, audit policy and new training program are being developed for both Security Accountability Section auditors and facility staff.  Anticipated timeframe for management review of revised program documents is early summer 2018.  
  • 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.
    • Identified $250,000 to use for integration of prison floor plans into SERA. Floorplans of all 55 prison facilities have been generated and a prison risk management tool is being developed. Completion is anticipated in mid-summer 2018.
  • Directed staff to complete a comprehensive review and update of all Prisons and Correction Enterprises policies and procedures. 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.
    • DPS-NIC project team continues to collect and analyze data. Findings and recommendations to revalidate the inmate classification instrument are anticipated in late 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. Close custody inmates will be removed from Correction Enterprises assignments involving cutting and/or impact tools effective June 1, 2018.
    • A multi-disciplinary workgroup is updating the inmate job assignment policy.  
  • Ordered stab resistant shirts for 13,000 certified employees who work in prisons. The shirts are intended to be part of the daily uniform to increase personal safety.
    • 6/21/18 update: Fully-deployed stab resistant shirts at two facilities and received a partial shipment at a third facility. Completed sizing of staff at several other close-security facilities. Sizing vests being distributed to other facilities. Manufacturing process is dependent on vendor's abililty to purchase raw materials, which is in high demand on the global market.
  • Developed a long-range strategic plan for upgrading, purchasing and installing additional or replacement video cameras in all facilities. Completed a priority list of facilities in need of upgrades, and OSBM re-allocated $1.5 million in initial funding to support this project. Seeking funding to support enhancement of camera surveillance capabilities.
  • 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. Seeking funding to implement. 
    • 6/21/18 update: Initiating a pilot at three facilities to test man-down technology using existing radio network. New radios with over-the-air programming capability have been purchased for all staff at the pilot sites. Visitors will be issued personal body alarm devices. Technology design in progress, with voice communication expected to be available in early July and pinpoint location ability in late summer 2018.
  • Redeployed eight existing agency positions to the Special Operations and Intelligence Unit to assist with forensic analysis of cellphones seized inside prisons as contraband, review intelligence data for commonalities and trends, and conduct investigations related to alleged gang and criminal activity.
  • 6/21/18 update: Initiated and secured passage of a bill (House Bill 969) that enhances criminal penalties for inmates who are convicted of willfully throwing bodily fluids, excrement or unknown substance at an employee in the performance of his/her duties, or who is convicted of willfully exposing genitalia to an employee in the performance of his/her duties. Sentences imposed for above-named offenses shall run consecutively to any other sentence being served. Also, enhances criminal penalties for persons convicted of providing inmates items prohibited by prison rules or tools for escape. Finally, establishes criminal penalty for prisoners convicted of possessing articles or tools to effect an escape or to aid in an assault or insurrection. Provisions apply to offenses committed on or after December 1, 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 in order to improve communication channels to those employees. The department identified funds for 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. Completed an assessment of the hiring process 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, correctional officers will be given two other attempts during their probationary employment period. Successful completion of COPAT is a condition of continued employment.
    • 6/21/18 update: Implemented a pilot the week of June 11 to interview correctional officer applicants at 10 prison facilities, instead of the current regional interview format. The goal is to create a relationship between the prison work site and applicant early in the hiring process. Also, developing a targeted recruitment strategy for facilities with the greatest critical needs.  
    • 6/21/18 update: The average number of days from the date of a correctional officer’s application to hire date decreased 24 days between March 2018 and May 2018. The average number of days from application to start date was 88 days in May 2018.
  • Launched a single statewide posting for all levels of correctional officers on March 1. In addition, applicants can now search by county for correctional officer vacancies.
  • Met with Community College system staff to discuss ways to identify and prepare students for employment with the Department.
  • Establishing a Facility Enhancement Fund, from revenues generated through Correction Enterprises, to provide facilities an annual funding allocation to develop programs and activities to increase morale and enhance personal and professional development among correctional employees. The fund and associated policy will take effect July 1, 2018.
  • 6/21/18 update: Secured support in the Governor’s recommended and Legislature’s enacted budget for salary increases for all staff whose positions are based in prison facilities. Staff based in facilities will receive 4% increases. Other agency employees will receive increases that are the greater of 2% or to the new state employee minimum annual salary of $31,200. In addition, correctional officer (CO) minimum salaries are raised to the following levels, effective July 1, 2018: CO I - $33,130; CO II - $34,220; CO III - $36,598.

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 former Career Readiness program.  FTOs will review policy, 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 correctional officers who still need to pass COPAT. Training for new FTOs began March 1, 2018.
    • 6/21/18 update: Nearly 450 correctional officers were selected to serve as Field Training Officers. Of those, 400 have completed training. The Field Training Officers are working with newly hired correctional officers and 160 new officers have successfully completed the 120-hour hands-on training program, and 150 new hires are currently participating in the program.

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. 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 contraband thrown over the fence. NIC security audit training identified the need for additional fencing at Franklin Correctional Center and installation is underway. 
    • Prisons continues to evaluate other facilities for possible fencing upgrades to reduce contraband from entering the facility and to improve safety. Additional fencing projects have been identified at six other facilities.
Next Steps

Next Steps

  • Improve internal and external communications with respect to prison operations. Met with State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC) leadership to foster better communication with employee representatives. Interim Chief Deputy Secretary Reuben Young and Prisons Director Kenneth Lassiter have visited 24 facilities to meet with staff, with more site visits planned.
  • Collaborating 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.
  • Enhance correctional officer recruitment efforts to include development and implementation of a marketing strategy, rebranding of NC Prisons and updating correctional officer recruitment materials. Promotional video and audio messages of correctional officers promoting their profession are airing on television and radio stations across the state in summer 2018. The video is currently posted on the DPS Facebook page and will also be used during recruitment activities such as job fairs.
  • Conduct a comprehensive review of the current Basic Correctional Officer training program. Committee comprised of training staff and Prisons subject matter experts reviewed the Basic Correctional Officer Training curriculum; they recommend expanding the training to six weeks. The proposed curriculum will be reviewed by the Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission. DPS intends to request temporary authority in November 2018 to begin teaching the revised curriculum in January 2019. 
  • 6/21/18 update: A Strategic Plan workgroup is developing career pathways and associated training for supervisors. Specific supervisory training has been identified and prioritized. Additional instructors and classes are being identified to increase the frequency of classes.
  • Five strategic plan workgroups - Enhance Security Policies and Procedures, Reduce Contraband in Facilities, Improve Training for New and Veteran Employees, Increase Hiring and Retention, and Improve Communication with Internal and External Stakeholders - continue meeting regarding various initiatives in their subject areas. Workgroups include staff from various facilities throughout the state. Workgroups have completed initial review of the strategic plan framework and presented recommendations to Secretary’s leadership team.
  • Engage the General Assembly to address immediate safety and security equipment needs as well as policy changes. Identified existing funds for several security initiatives including enhancing IT security at facilities by upgrading computer firewalls, purchasing moveable towers to increase line-of-sight security within prison grounds, and providing security package (batons, pepper spray) for certified program staff. These projects are in various stages of procurement and implementation.
    o    6/21/18 update: A total of $15 million was appropriated by the Legislature to support man-down technology and increasing camera surveillance.