Gov. Roy Cooper has responded to the death of a prison security officer in Bertie Correctional Institution with an order to fly state flags at half-staff, and Sgt. Meggan Callahan, who was attacked and killed Wednesday evening responding to a fire, deserved that recognition. But now Cooper has duty still to do.
Statewide, a story following the 29-year-old Callahan’s death reported, there were 1,160 assaults on prison staff in 2016, an increase over the 1,136 the previous year. There was an assault every eight hours.
Everyone accepts the hazards of working in a prison — but more than 1,100 assaults indicates an escalating problem, one that needs to be urgently addressed. Guards obviously have to have contact with prisoners, but might the procedures be revised to ensure more safety in such contact? Are more guards needed so that none is isolated with a prisoner? (Expense should not stand in the way of that.)
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In this case, the inmate charged in the attack on Callahan, Craig Wissink, was serving a life sentence. That kind of sentence could obviously make an inmate more dangerous behind bars.
This incident shows that prison safety policies need to be reviewed. Cooper and the General Assembly must now act to reduce the risks for guards, whatever that takes.