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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.
  • Modified Restrictive Housing and Offender Disciplinary policies to enhance sanctions 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.
  • 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. Ordering batons to equip correctional officers at minimum security facilities. 
  • Promoted enhanced two-way communication between facility heads and Prisons management through three statewide meetings and one meeting between Correction Enterprises managers and facility heads, along with division management, to increase collaboration, safety and security. Conducted conference calls with facility heads by custody level to discuss common issues and to ensure consistent communication. Prisons and Correction Enterprises leadership meeting on consistent basis to discuss ongoing operational needs and future projects. Prisons Operations, Facility Maintenance, and Central Engineering conducting joint site visits to identify and address potential and safety security risks.       

Increasing Hiring and Training

  • Increased our recruitment efforts and improved our hiring process, resulting in a 5.7% increase in correctional officer hires in the first 10 months of 2018 versus the same period in 2017. 
  • Secured 4% legislative salary increases for all staff whose positions are based in prisons or whose work is predominantly performed in prisons. This includes program, medical, maintenance and Correction Enterprises employees. 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.
  • Developed a promotional video and audio messages of correctional officers promoting their profession that aired on television and radio stations across the state. The video has aired on more than 45 radio and 12 television stations. The video is posted on the DPS Facebook page and continues to be used during recruitment activities such as job fairs.
  • 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.
    • Update 11/14/18: Recruiters participated in more than 300 events since March 2018.

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.
  • Added two hours of situational awareness training to the Basic Correctional Officer curriculum effective January 2, 2018. Completed situational awareness training in early May 2018 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 was developed for various facility staff, with training to be completed in the current fiscal year that began July 1.
  • Identified existing funds and purchased computer tablets for use in Basic Correctional Officer Training. Tablets in use at Samarcand Training Academy effective Aug. 13, 2018 and will be deployed to other regions in the coming months.
  • 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.
  • Conducted 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.
  • Launched a single statewide posting for all levels of correctional officers on March 1, 2018. In addition, applicants can now search by county for correctional officer vacancies.

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.
  • Effective June 1, 2018, 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. 
    • Update 11/14/18: The board met March 20, 2018, June 19, 2018, October 10, 2018 and November 14, 2018. 
  • Named Gary Mohr, the former director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, as Senior Executive Advisor for Prison Reform.   Gov. John Kasich appointed Mohr director of the Ohio department in 2011, where he served until August 31, 2018.  He has more than 43 years of experience – with service as deputy director for administration at the Ohio corrections agency; deputy director of the agency’s Office of Prisons; and as warden at three separate correctional institutions. From 1992-1994, Mohr served as director of the Ohio Governor’s Office of Criminal Justice, where he led the investigation into the cause of the 1993 Lucasville prison riot. Many of his team’s recommendations for preventive measures and improved conditions were adopted by prison systems across the nation. Mr. Mohr is the President-elect of the American Correctional Association.
  • 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, including installation of additional mirrors, door alarms, and security cages and process improvements, 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. An audit tool, audit policy and new training program are being developed for both Security Accountability Section auditors and facility staff.  The new audit tool is approved and is posted on the web for viewing by internal stakeholders. 
    • Update 11/14/18: Unannounced security assessments are underway. Nine unannounced assessments have been completed. Twelve of 14 compliance auditor positions are filled.  
  • 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. 
  • 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 conflicted with Prisons policies. Revised tool and key control policies were issued Aug. 14, 2018.
    • Update 11/14/18: Forty-four Prisons policies have been reviewed, revised and re-issued since January 2018. Additional policies are under review.
  • Requested NIC to review and revalidate inmate classification protocols.
    • DPS-NIC project team continues to collect and analyze data.
    • Update 11/14/18: Findings and recommendations to revalidate the inmate classification instrument are anticipated in fall 2018. Policy revisions, training and electronic offender management system updates will follow. Modified classification instrument scheduled to be in place in Spring 2019.
    • 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 were removed from Correction Enterprises assignments involving cutting and/or impact tools effective June 1, 2018.
    • Offender job assignment policy updated in October 2018.
  • Ordered stab resistant vests for 13,000 certified employees who work in prisons. The vests are intended to be part of the daily uniform to increase personal safety.
    • Update 11/14/18: More than 4,500 stab resistant vests shipped to close custody facilities. Sizing of staff underway at medium custody units. Manufacturing process is dependent on vendor’s ability 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 add nearly 900 cameras in 10 priority facilities. Secured funding in the 2018 legislative session to deploy 3,000 additional cameras over a two-year implementation period. 
    • Update 11/14/18: Actively recruiting temporary staff to assist with installation of cameras. Also, exploring additional strategies to speed deployment of cameras within an operational prison setting.      
  • 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.  
    • 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 currently available and pinpoint location ability in late fall 2018. 
    • Update 11/14/18: Secured funding in the 2018 legislative session to deploy man-down technology at additional facilities. Infrastructure planning and design underway at 22 additional prisons.
  • Developing a pilot at Wake Correctional Center to implement emergency response technology through existing telephone system as another notification method when staff are in distress. 
  • 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.
  • 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. 
    • Update 11/14/18: Adult Correction leadership met with Conference of District Attorneys in October 2018 to discuss the new legislation and the importance of prosecution of offenders who assault staff.
  • 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. A total of $15 million was appropriated by the Legislature to support man-down technology and increasing camera surveillance.
    • Update 11/14/18: Batons and higher concentration pepper spray substantially deployed to certified programs staff.
    • Update 11/14/18: Security firewall upgrades deployed.

Hiring and Retention

  • Implementing a plan to provide e-mail accounts to correctional officers who do not have email access to improve communication channels to those employees. The department identified funds for the project. 
    • Update 11/14/18: Two prisons piloting use of email for all correctional officers. The agency will monitor frequency of use and identify measures to ensure officers have adequate access to computers and time to review email messages during their shift. A total of 1,400 correctional officers already have access to email by virtue of their job assignment. 
  • Implemented a pilot in June 2018 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. 
    • Update 11/14/18: An additional 22 facilities were added to the facility correctional officer interview pilot, effective November 1, 2018. The remaining 23 facilities will begin correctional officer interviews effective January 2019.
  • Met with Community College system staff to discuss ways to identify and prepare students for employment with the Department. Recruiters are meeting with community college students who are in the process of obtaining their high school equivalency degree to educate them on the requirements, responsibilities, and benefits of becoming a correctional officer. 
  • Established 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 took effect July 1, 2018.
  • Reviewing exit surveys implemented in July 2018 for correctional officers to document reasons officers are leaving the agency in order to develop retention proposals

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.
    • Update 11/14/18: Nearly 450 correctional officers have been selected to serve as Field Training Officers. Of those, 423 have completed training. Just under 750 new correctional officers have successfully completed the 120-hour training program, and approximately 60 new hires are currently participating in the program.
  • Update 11/14/18: Providing tasers for supervisory staff at select close-custody facilities. Three-day instructor training completed. Training underway for supervisors at four pilot close custody facilities.  
  • Conducting 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. 
  • 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.
  • Update 11/14/18: OSDT, in collaboration with Prisons administration and Human Resources, continually monitors the number of correctional officer applicants and adjusts training locations and capacity in order to enroll new hires into Basic Training in the second week of employment. From January through September 2018, more than 1,400 new hires successfully completed Basic Correctional Officer Training. 

Reducing Contraband in Prison Facilities

  • Contracted with a vendor to install Managed Access System (MAS) equipment in 2018 at two close custody prisons; anticipated completion is early 2019. 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 is also pursuing mobile managed access technology at 30 facilities over the next 12 months, beginning in November 2018.
  • 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 security. Additional fencing projects have been identified at six other facilities.
  • Strategic planning workgroup visited federal prison facility in Butner and South Carolina prison system to review their contraband detection methods related to fencing, netting, and offender mail. Assessing which detection methods will be most effective at specific prisons, and planning pilot programs to introduce new strategies and techniques. 
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 has visited 33 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 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. 
  • 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 are refining recommendations and developing implementation strategies.