GREENSBORO, N.C. – After a fight and fire at the Pasquotank Correctional Institute in the eastern part of the state left two employees dead, and three still in the hospital, the effects of the incident are rippling through the state’s prison system.
State Prison leaders are working the with Governor Roy Cooper on assessing the incident, thoroughly reviewing the safety and security at the prison, and making the necessary changes.
In a statement, Secretary Erik Hooks of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety said,
“We owe it to the public and to our employees to keep state prisons secure, and we owe it to these fallen employees and their families to learn all we can about what happened and take steps to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.”
When it comes to working in a correctional facility, on the state prison level, or even in county jails, it requires a specific type of person. Finding those people can often be tricky.
“That is a challenge that we face across the state prison system - finding people to work in prison facilities,” said Keith Acree, spokesperson for NCDPS, “We've made some improvements in recent years, on pay and salary, but it still is not where it needs to be.”
Acree says correctional officers go through rigorous training – and even more so in recent years. When dealing with inmates, he says it all goes back to basic training.
“When they first come to work for us, in basic training, they learn how to have a good sense of situational awareness and always know what is going on around them at all times,” he said, “We also teach control and defensive techniques. They learn how to protect themselves, and how to react when they're assaulted, and how to fall down in a fashion where they don't get hurt.”
Responsibilities and duties at county jails are similar.
“You are responsible for that community of people,” said Major Chuck Williamson, Bureau Commander for Guilford County’s Court Services, “You don't carry any weapons inside the housing units, and so what you have to be is a very good communicator, and you have to be situationally aware, for the entire shift. There’s pressure there – there’s no letdown in 12 hours.”
Right now, the Greensboro Detention Center, part of the Guilford County jail system, is understaffed by 35 people. Williamson says even in a high-tech facility with cameras and locked doors around every corner, it still requires the right, hyper-focused people.
“The security pieces are there, but it requires those officers to do their jobs,” he said.
There is no set standard for the number of correctional officers to inmates in prisons or jails. The facilities must determine what ratio is best for the type of building they are in.