In 2015, a team of reporters began investigating North Carolina’s 55 prisons and the role that correctional officers play in abusing and colluding with some of the state’s most violent and manipulative criminals. These officers – men and women hired to oversee and protect inmates – sometimes fuel corruption instead, the Observer found.
For this series, reporters paid particular attention to the state’s maximum-security prisons.
Reporters combed through thousands of pages of court records, emails to and from public officials, employee dismissal letters and medical examiner reports.
They also interviewed or corresponded with more than 230 people. Among them: more than 80 inmates and more than 65 current and former prison employees.
State Department of Public Safety officials repeatedly delayed or denied access to some information.
▪ It took two years and repeated requests for the state to provide data on contraband and uses of force. Even then, much of the data was too incomplete to use.
▪ Until lawyers got involved, state prison officials limited the number of inmates who reporters could interview.
▪ They refused to let the Observer send prisoners a short survey that asked about violence, contraband and corruption.
▪ Officials opened reporters’ letters to prisoners, some inmates said.
▪ Despite repeated requests, N.C. prison officials refused to provide the Observer prison surveillance video or a report on a fatal inmate stabbing in 2012. State leaders cited a law that guards the confidentiality of “sensitive public security information.” Reporters, however, obtained video of a September 2012 attack at Lanesboro Correctional Institution from another source.
Yet, state prison leaders insisted they are open with the public.
“Transparency is very important,” said David Guice, chief deputy secretary for adult correction and juvenile justice. “I’m not in the business of hiding anything.”
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