Special Reports

Here’s how NC could fight corruption in its prisons

N.C. prison leaders say they’re taking steps to improve hiring, training and detecting contraband. But there’s more to be done.
N.C. prison leaders say they’re taking steps to improve hiring, training and detecting contraband. But there’s more to be done. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

▪ Check backgrounds of job candidates more thoroughly. Increasing hiring standards and more thoroughly checking the backgrounds of job applicants could help weed out those who aren’t fit for prison work. California checks applicants’ social media pages and credit histories.

▪ Make training a priority. North Carolina puts new officers on the job after just one week of orientation. But experts say new officers need far more up-front training to handle such a challenging job. Some states require more than 10 weeks of training before officers go to work.

▪ Boost pay. The average pay for officers at maximum-security prisons is about $35,000, well below the national average for correctional officers and jailers. Detention officers at the Mecklenburg County jail are paid significantly more.

▪ Bolster efforts to keep contraband out of prisons. Simply frisking officers when they report for duty could help keep drugs and cellphones out. Deploying airport-style scanners – and more sophisticated cellphone-detection devices – would also catch smugglers.

▪ Randomly drug test officers. Several states – including Virginia, Texas and New Jersey – randomly drug test officers after they’re hired. North Carolina doesn’t do that.

▪ Increase funding for Prisoner Legal Services. The publicly funded law firm once helped N.C. inmates who were mistreated in prison. But sharp budget cuts have left the office unable to sue on behalf of most inmates who complain about abuse, poor medical care and other prison conditions.

Ames Alexander: 704-358-5060, @amesalex

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