I-Team: North Carolina pouring millions into prison safety as violence rises

Thursday, October 4, 2018
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There have been steady increases of assaults on correctional officers and inmates.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A steady increase of assaults on correctional officers and inmates has led state officials to invest $15 million into improving security.

Data obtained by the ABC11 I-Team shows at least four attacks happen every day at North Carolina prisons; many of which lead to injuries. The data includes information on the 227 staff members involved, with 58 requiring significant medical attention. Reports indicated some attackers used weapons like knives and pipes.

"We're not just warehousing individuals," North Carolina's Director of Prisons Kenneth Lassiter explained to the I-Team. "The people that we are charged with being in our custody don't want to be here. It is impossible to prevent an assault in prison on staff or inmate - yes it is impossible, just like it is impossible to stop someone in society from doing something violent."

Officials with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety confirmed the $15 million allocated for safety will lead to the purchase of new technology and equipment, including cameras, radios and fencing. The money will also help provide new stab-resistant vests, batons and pepper spray to the state's 12,000 correction officers.

"The safety of the staff is my responsibility," Lassiter affirmed. "It's what I pray for every day and every day I look at what we're doing to create a safer environment."

Indeed, the number of prisoners (36,000) far outnumbers the number of correctional officers, but Lassiter said there are different ratios for different prison populations. Still, the Division of Prisons has up to 2,000 open correctional officer positions.

"It's a very difficult profession to recruit for because of the unknown and because of the inherent danger of working inside a facility day in and day out," Lassiter said. "The men and women that leave home every single day and put on a uniform or anything related to corrections are heroes. They are part of that chain of criminal justice family that for years have been neglected."