Judge Reuben Young has been named as North Carolina’s interim prison chief, a job that will put him in charge of reforming an agency wracked by widespread corruption and a flurry of employee deaths.
Young, a Superior Court Judge who served as Secretary of of the Department of Public Safety in 2012, succeeds David Guice, who stepped down on Nov. 1.
“Judge Young shares my vision that the safety and security of our prison staff and the public must be our top priority within the Division of Prisons, and he clearly understands that we must find ways to make our prisons safer while also housing many inmates with histories of very violent behavior,” Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks said in announcing Young’s appointment Wednesday.
Young’s term on the bench concludes at the end of this month. He is resigning his judgeship on Dec. 28 and will begin his new job the following day.
He takes over during a tumultuous time for the state’s prisons.
In April, Sgt. Meggan Callahan was killed inside Bertie Correctional Institution. Authorities say an inmate there set a fire and then beat Callahan to death with the fire extinguisher she brought to put out the flames.
Then, on Oct. 12, four more employees were fatally injured during an escape attempt at Pasquotank Correctional Institution. Four inmates who worked inside the prison’s sewing plant have been charged. The inmates stabbed employees with scissors and beat them with hammers, according to a worker who called 911.
Experts and officers told the Observer that better staffing might have prevented both attacks.
In prisons across North Carolina, severe staff shortages endanger officers and inmates, a recent Charlotte Observer investigation found.
At some prisons, including Pasquotank and Bertie, more than one of every four officer positions was vacant last year, state data show.
A previous Charlotte Observer investigation found that a hidden world of drugs, sex and gang violence thrives inside North Carolina’s prisons – and that officers who are paid to prevent such corruption are instead fueling it.
Following the deaths and the Observer's investigation, department leaders announced a series of changes aimed at improving safety in prisons. They include:
▪ Frisking almost everyone who enters the prisons.
▪ Buying batons for officers in medium-security prisons. Currently, only maximum-security officers are issued batons, which can be used to subdue violent inmates.
▪ Upgrading security cameras in several prisons.
▪ Installing additional fencing around some prisons, so that it’s harder for inmates to retrieve contraband that is thrown over fences.
▪ Creating a new security unit that will develop safety training and ensure regular safety audits at all prisons.
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Panel to explore how to make prisons safer
A new state board will provide advice on ways to make North Carolina’s prisons safer, Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks announced Wednesday.
Among the members of the new Prison Reform Advisory Board:
▪ James French, who has had a number of prison jobs, including warden, director of prisons and deputy secretary for adult correction
▪ Stanley Drewery, a retired correctional officer and president of the State Employees Association of North Carolina
▪ Art Beeler, a professor at N.C. Central University. Beeler is a retired warden of Butner Federal Correctional Institution who has served on committees for the American Correctional Association.
▪ Mike Killmer, who has worked with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and retired as the associate warden of Butner Federal Correctional Institution.
Other board members could be appointed in the future, according to a DPS news release.