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Prison reform advisory board provides recommendations for improving state prisons

From the N.C. Department of Public Safety

After 19 months of meeting, listening, observing and studying the North Carolina prison system, the Prison Reform Advisory Board on Wednesday presented its recommendations for improvements to Department of Public Safety Secretary Erik A. Hooks.

The seven-person board drafted a report with 30 recommendations in areas such as safety and security, staffing, recruiting and retention and facility maintenance.

Some of the recommendations include:

  • Develop and seek legislative funding for a comprehensive compensation plan for staff that includes annual step increases and a career progression based on knowledge, skills and abilities and, if appropriate, enact site differentials based on institution security level.
  • Enhance benefits for Corrections’ staff commensurate with sworn law enforcement officers.
  • Modify the hiring process and timing of Basic Correctional Officer Training to bring new certified staff on board quicker.
  • Recommend implementation of a bonus for current employees who refer applicants hired into difficult-to-fill positions.
  • Develop a recruitment and retention plan for each facility and provide specific resources for employee retention.
  • Conduct a comprehensive assessment of facility physical plants and infrastructure to develop a strategic plan for facility management and staffing.
  • Prioritize request for funds to install air conditioning to improve the productivity and well-being of staff as well as improve the health and safety of an aging offender population.
  • Request that the General Assembly appropriate funds to eliminate Prisons’ structural budget deficit and provide a line-item budget that reflects true operating needs and costs.

The complete report with the board recommendations and information about the members can be found on the Prison Reform Advisory Board website at www.ncdps.gov/prison-reform-advisory-board.

“I thank the Board for all the time and attention devoted to this mighty effort,” Secretary Hooks said. “The issues we face are decades in the making.  We welcome the board’s very thoughtful recommendations, while also acknowledging the significant work and reforms that DPS has already put in place. The Board’s recommendations today show that the department is moving forward in the right direction, and bolster our ongoing efforts to make impactful changes in the name of safety for our Prison employees and offenders.”

The Secretary created and appointed the advisory board members in 2018 following the 2017 killings of employees who worked at Bertie and Pasquotank correctional institutions. The Board was charged with advising on policies, programs and services to improve the safety and security of the state’s 55 prisons.

In its quarterly meetings, the Board heard presentations related to Prisons’ operations and reform initiatives from all areas of corrections, including health services and offender programming. The Board participated in a meeting held at Warren Correctional Institution, which allowed the members to interact directly with staff, as well as a statewide wardens’ meeting, which provided insight into some of the pressing issues confronting facility leadership and frontline staff.

The Board’s recommendations will be considered for potential implementation by the department, though some may require funding or statutory changes that must be approved by the Legislature.

“I learned so much about corrections and the prison system,” said Board Chairperson Beth Austin. “I have a very deep and high respect for correctional officers. I have been in our prisons and there are dedicated employees in the system. I hope these recommendations elevate them to the status of law enforcement