A report from The Charlotte Observer regarding crime inside the state’s prisons is profoundly shocking. And what is revealed in this report by The News & Observer’s sister publication (both are owned by the McClatchy Company) must be immediately addressed by Gov. Roy Cooper’s Department of Public Safety and his Secretary Erik Hooks.
Neither the governor nor Hooks holds responsibility for the culture of unbelievable crime inside state prisons, but both now must address the issues exposed by The Observer. And it should be noted first that former prison officials acknowledge the problems. Consider the comment in The Observer’s report from George Solomon, recently retired director of prisons: “Do I think I have corrupt staff in every prison, in every (maximum security) prison? I would be naive to say I didn’t.”
The Observer interviewed more than 65 current and former employees, more than 80 inmates and numerous recognized experts.
Findings included: In the last five years, at least 70 state employees have faced criminal charges for actions inside the prison; more than 400 have been fired for on-the-job misconduct; prison officers have been hired despite having criminal histories; most of the illegal drugs and cellphones brought into prisons are smuggled in by employees; officers have been accused of torturing inmates; some guards have carried on sexual affairs with prisoners in their charge.
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Some of the issues that make it hard to hire competent, honest guards (though it must be said that most are both) are obvious: average pay at minimum security prisons is $32,000 and at maximum security prisons it’s $35,000. That’s more than $10,000 less than the national average. Inexcusable.
There’s also clearly a problem with a failure to adequately screen potential guards. When those with criminal pasts can get hired, something’s wrong, and no excuse is good enough. Having such guards is a virtual guarantee of trouble.
And then there’s the system: Prisons are often seen as economic benefits to rural, small-town areas. But such locations are not a draw for prospective employees, and so the pool of job applicants is smaller – and likely not as well-qualified.
Erik Hooks, Cooper’s new secretary of the Department of Public Safety, promises he’s distressed by the report. Now the test is going to be to see what steps Hooks will take to make prisons safer for inmates, guards and citizens in all communities who might be victimized if prisoners are helped to escape by staff or if they can continue to conduct their crimes – drug and crime rings, for example – from inside the prisons thanks to cell phones.
No one expects maximum security prisons to be college campuses. But they shouldn’t be breeding grounds for more crime – within the walls of the prisons, for goodness sakes. The Observer’s report is alarming, and should be valuable to state officials who want to correct correction – something they need to address, and right now.