Commentary: Alleged secret society endangers our prisons

By on December 7, 2017

By Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan

Many of us who live in rural North Carolina understand the importance of our state prisons to our economy. Most are located here.

They employ a significant number of people responsible for keeping us safe by maintaining security within these facilities.

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In fact, hardly a day goes by when we don’t see a correction officer at the grocery store, or waiting in line at the drugstore to have a prescription filled.

Some are friends and neighbors we know, while others can only be identified by the patch on the sleeves of their gray or blue shirts.

Other than a friendly hello or nod, we hardly gave them another thought, until April 26, 2017.

Commentary

That was the day that 29-year-old correction officer Sgt. Megan Callahan was brutally murdered by an inmate at the Bertie Correctional Institute.

Megan was a more than a competent correction officer who loved her job. Her cold-blooded murder stunned everyone.

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When her family came to Raleigh, where Megan was honored by the state House and Senate, I said on the House floor that I truly hoped and prayed that her death would lead to reforms that would help reduce the chance of something like this ever happening again.

Most assumed that would indeed be the case. As we learned six short months later, it wasn’t.

On Oct. 12 at the Pasquotank Correctional Institute, a prison breakout attempt resulted in the ultimate deaths of four more correction employees by inmates.

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The victims: Veronica Darden, Justin Smith, Wendy Shannon and Geoffrey Howe.

I suggested a legislative commission be established that would review prison management and conditions from top to bottom, including the operations of Correction Enterprises.

The next day the Department of Corrections stated they were going to have an independent investigation conducted at both Bertie and Pasquotank.

In my view, too little, too late. Any investigation needs to be system-wide. The problems are systemic.

For the last six months I have been speaking with corrections personnel from many of the 55 correction facilities across the state. They have been sharing information with me about what amounts to a “secret society” that exists within a closed circle of management.

It protects the misdeeds of those in power from ever being reported. This includes inmates.

Employees at lower levels are told by management that, “Not a word will be spoken about what goes on within these walls or it will be trouble for you; even your job!”

There is little or no trust by correction officers in management. Correction officers and other prison staff are beyond frustrated by the continuing downward spiral within the system, including the lack of adequate security and support for them to do their jobs properly as well as a lack of training for newly recruited officers.

They are being forced to put up with rampant gang activity. In addition, on almost any confrontation between a correction officer and an inmate, management sides with inmates.

Officers are disrespected and demoralized, while putting their lives on the line every day. And for what? Seasoned personnel know much of what is wrong within the system. They see it every day.

The problem is no one in management listens, or seems to even care. As for those who will talk; they realize it will likely mean their jobs. This should no longer be tolerated. The folks on the inside are fed up!

Unless things change for the better and soon, we will continue to see more correction officers heading for the exits and their exits to date have been unprecedented.

The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety, of which I am a recently added member, is scheduled to meet again in Raleigh on Jan. 18.

In my view, they need to either do a complete investigation, including recommendations for overall reform, or establish a subcommittee to do the same. They should seek subpoena power so that they can get to the bottom of this alleged secret society once and for all.

Rep. Steinburg represents North Carolina House District 1 in the N.C. General Assembly, and has announced he will be a candidate for the N.C. Senate in 2018. This commentary first appeared in the North State Journal on Dec. 5

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Comments

Carter McKay

Saturday, Dec 9 9:14 am

Isn’t this typical?

A politician politicizes the tragic loss of life to exaggerate his image.

By his own admission, Steinberg has only been involved for six months. As Steinberg says, “In my view, too little, too late.”

Would this be a part of the political dialogue had the tragic loss of life in Bertie and Pasquotank Counties not occurred? Is it possible Steinberg has found a talking point for his senate campaign?

Where was Steinberg on this issue when Republicans controlled the Executive Mansion and Legislature? Four years Republicans controlled the process and not so much as a peep on this topic.

When Steinberg was advancing the nearby Amazon Wind Farm in Perquimans and Pasquotank Counties did he take the time to visit the Pasquotank Correctional Institute to gauge the concerns of correctional officers at that time?

Inquiring voters want to know!

Prison$$$

Friday, Dec 8 7:59 pm

Perhaps if inmates were given fair wage for labor and officers fair wage for security there would be less violence, or at least a balance to support conflict resolution
Unfortunately, the outsourcing of prison enterprises is a kind of slavery, and more and more we learn about innocent inmate incarceration
I hope Rep Steinberg considers and explores the roots of the system

hightider

Friday, Dec 8 3:36 pm

Follow the money. I would find it hard not to believe there is graft and nepotism involved. The prison industrial complex, like the “drug war” needs criminals to prosper, the same way the DEA needs the cartels. Who were the Pasquotank inmates sewing for? Were they making state uniforms? Who was profiting there? As far as the allegation they were teaching inmates how to repair sewing machines? Absurd. Who has ever hired someone, especially an ex-con, to repair a sewing machine?

Turner Brown

Friday, Dec 8 10:08 am

Big deal. Prison it’s self is a subculture. I spent ten years as a Correctional Officer. On most shifts the ratio is one officer to fifty inmates. They let us work there. They have to be controls in place for both inmates and staff. Both that are spoke of and are not spoke of. After all the majority of prison staff are just one step above the inmates. Easy to critize outside, try working inside for awhile. I was fortunate that I was able to transfer to a different agency and eventually retire. However those ten years are a vivid memory and I am ever grateful for those that perform those task for the meager salary our state pays them.

stephen mckenna

Thursday, Dec 7 4:13 pm

What is “Correction Enterprises?” Is it private group to which prison management was outsourced?

    Sam Walker

    Thursday, Dec 7 6:55 pm

    They make everything from cleaning supplies used in schools and state offices, to the safety vests worn by NCDOT workers.

    This is from the Correction Enterprises website:
    “Working within the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Correction Enterprises provides the state’s inmates with opportunities to learn job skills by producing goods and services for the Department of Public Safety and other tax-supported entities.

    No money is appropriated by the General Assembly for the operation of Correction Enterprises. This organization aids in the rehabilitation of inmates by teaching them job skills that are easily transferable to the private sector upon release.

    Correction Enterprises consists of 32 separate revenue producing operations located throughout the state, plus administrative offices in Raleigh and a central warehouse in Apex. The Enterprises operation employs approximately 380 staff and 2300 inmate workers.”

Hank Hill

Thursday, Dec 7 11:42 am

Sounds like another state agency that I know about

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