Attack forces two-week lockdown at NC prison

aalexander@charlotteobserver.comNovember 27, 2013 

Keith Acree, spokesman for the N.C. Division of Prisons

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More than 800 inmates at an Anson County prison have been on lockdown for two weeks after an attack that injured a corrections officer, state officials say.

Subsequent searches at Lanesboro Correctional Institution found “numerous cellphones, improvised weapons and marijuana,” state Division of Prisons spokesman Keith Acree wrote in response to questions from the Observer.

On Nov. 15, an officer was “attacked and injured with an improvised weapon,” Acree wrote. The officer, whom state officials did not identify, has since returned to work.

State officials did not explain the circumstances that led to the attack.

The prison’s 850 close-custody inmates have been on lockdown since the assault. That means they’re denied telephone access and confined to their cells at all times, except for three showers a week. During normal operations, prisoners are locked in their cells during inmate counts and after “lights out” at night.

Three days after the attack, a response team went in to Lanesboro, conducted a facilitywide search and found the cellphones, weapons and marijuana, Acree said.

“We continue to maintain a small force of additional officers at Lanesboro searching and recovering contraband,” he wrote.

Acree did not respond to a question about how the contraband got into the prison.

The Polkton police department is investigating the assault, Acree said.

Located about 45 miles east of Charlotte, Lanesboro has repeatedly drawn media scrutiny after inmate deaths and allegations of improper conduct by corrections officers. Known as a particularly tough place to do time, Lanesboro houses many suspected gang members.

Last year, a N.C. inmate filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Lanesboro corrections officers cracked his skull with a baton and then destroyed a surveillance video that showed the assault.

A 2012 prison brawl also led to the death of a convicted murderer. And in 2009, an inmate was repeatedly pepper sprayed after requesting medical help.

The state has frequently changed the prison’s leadership in recent years.

Wendell Hargrave, an assistant regional manager with the system, was named the prison’s acting administrator in April. He took over from former administrator Lawrence Parsons, who was reassigned pending a review of operations at Lanesboro.

With a staff of a little more than 500, the prison is designed to hold 1,400 inmates.

Across North Carolina, demographic trends and a declining crime rate have reduced the prison population in recent years.

Alexander: 704-358-5060

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