Special Reports

NC Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks responds to Observer’s prison investigation

Statement from Department of Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks:

“I expect state prisons to operate safely, effectively and ethically, and I'm looking closely at how to improve prison operations. I have zero tolerance for misconduct and I know that there are many hard-working, ethical prison employees dedicated to serving honorably who share my view. At the Department of Public Safety, we are working to improve prison hiring and employee conduct by establishing a new Professional Standards Division, strengthening candidate screenings, developing a new approach to training, and developing random drug testing. I have been diligently networking with law enforcement and prosecutors to address any instances of criminal misconduct. We're also implementing technology to better screen for contraband and control cell phone use in state prisons.”

Below are some actions that I have set in motion and that are in process, as well as some actions already completed:

Professional Standards, Hiring, Training

▪ Created the new division of Professional Standards, Policy and Planning.

The division’s primary role is to ensure that employees comply with applicable departmental policies, state and federal regulations, as well as carry out their duties with the highest ethical standards.

This division also provides direction, analysis and development of policies and initiatives for DPS.

It expands the efforts of the Office of Special Investigations and Internal Audit with focus on creating efficiencies and ensuring ethical compliance in the workplace.

The division will also be working to enhance and provide even more options for employees to report misconduct or criminal activity.

▪ I have directed that a thorough review be conducted of hiring practices for correctional officers. We need to see what is working well and what needs to be revamped.

For about a year, psychological, biographical, and medical assessments have been conducted for the agency by the FMRT Group via a contract agreement to help ensure candidates are suited for Corrections work.

In addition to the above, during the past year positions called Career Readiness coordinators and coaches have been developed and implemented throughout Prisons, with an emphasis on monitoring and mentoring new correctional officers through a two-year onboarding process.

▪ Adult Correction is working diligently to implement a new training approach.

We believe that over the coming months, this new approach will allow the department to ensure that every new correctional officer receives basic training within the first two weeks on the job.

At the same time, there will be an accelerated effort to eliminate the current backlog of new officers waiting to attend basic training.

Security Measures

▪ A new program for periodic, random drug testing of all prison employees has been in the works for some time and the policy will be introduced soon.

▪ DPS does drug test correctional officer candidates before hire and drug testing does occur for current employees when there is reasonable suspicion.

▪ Four used scanners were purchased as surplus from the Transportation Security Administration at $10,000 each. DPS is finalizing its protocols for the use of the scanners to meet requirements of regulatory entities. The scanners will first be piloted in contraband trouble spots. Training is being planned and the anticipated installation and implementation time at four locations summer of 2017.

▪ Adult Correction is close to recommending vendors to facilitate use of managed access technology to help control cell phone use within a prison facility. This technology holds and captures information on where a cell phone call originates. It does allow 911 calls to go through.

The department will continue to support a request from the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to consider allowing cellular jamming technologies to be utilized for prison facilities. This type of technology is less expensive than managed access, but currently cannot be utilized by the corrections profession.

▪ Prisons is currently looking at how it can best increase the frequency of the use of the drug and cell phone detection dogs.