Wake County News

Deadly SC prison riots prompt assessments in North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) - North Carolina correctional facilities are assessing their safety procedures following the deaths of seven inmates in a prison riot in South Carolina.

The investigation into the eight-hour incident at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, South Carolina, is still in its early stages. It took more than three months for the National Institute of Corrections to release its report on an October 2017 case in which four workers at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City died from injuries suffered in an attempted escape.

Four inmates face murder charges in the deaths of Wendy Shannon, Justin Smith, Veronica Darden, and Geoffrey Howe. Investigators said Jonathan Monk, Wisezah Buckman, Mikel Brady, and Seth Frazier were involved in the beatings and stabbings of the workers at the prison in Pasquotank County.

Lee Correctional, with almost 1,800 inmates, is South Carolina's largest maximum-security prison. Raleigh's Central Prison, a close-custody facility which is the maximum level of security in North Carolina, had 945 inmates as of Monday afternoon. Wake Correctional Center started the week with 397 inmates in its minimum-security population.

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Jerry Higgins, a communications officer for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety's division of adult corrections, said state prison administrators frequently speak with each other. That includes working across state lines, and Higgins said the department of corrections will see what comes out of South Carolina.

"We are always reviewing policies and procedures at the 55 prisons in the state. We can't take anything for granted, whether it's minimum custody or close custody," Higgins said.

"We must make sure staff is safe, inmates are safe, and the public is safe, so we're always looking at security and improvements," he said.

Higgins said the Pasquotank incident, as well as the murder of an officer at Bertie Correctional Institution in April 2017, led the secretary of the Department of Public Safety to take steps for prison reform. DPS placed the two top administrators at Pasquotank Correctional Institution, Felix Taylor and Colbert Respass, on paid administrative leave following the National Institute of Corrections report in January. Higgins said Monday that Taylor and Respass remain on paid leave.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison says he is interested to see what investigators will find in their assessment of everything that transpired in Sunday night in South Carolina. He wants to know if it can help identify possible vulnerabilities in his lock-ups, and lead to fixes.

"Anytime something happens like this, regardless, we try to learn from it," Harrison said. "Things that happened. What led up to it? What could they have prevented? We always look back and see.

"Anything in law enforcement that we can project the future a little bit, we want to prevent something from happening, whether it's a county jail or whether it's a prison. That's what we look at and what we try to base it off of."

He said there is usually a milder mentality in county jails than in prisons, as most of their inmates are waiting on court dates and don't want to get in any more trouble. However, he expects those in custody will be talking a lot about the South Carolina riot, so it is imperative for officers at all facilities to be on alert.
 

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