2 correctional officers speak out about staffing shortages in state prisons

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Two correctional officers are sharing their perspectives about what the staffing shortage has meant for their work and safety. As CBS 17 reported, NC DPS confirms there’s a 30 percent functional vacancy rate for correctional officers.

“You have backup, you have help, you have support,” Crystal Simpson, a correctional officer said.

Simpson has been in that post since 2006. She came to Central Prison in 2011.

“I’ve worked mental health, operations, now I’m the hospital,” Simpson said.

“To me personally it’s fascinating,” Patrick Hurley said.

Hurley is also a correctional officer. He started in 2011 and has been at Central Prison since 2013.

“Now I’m in the diagnostics department where we issue ID cards, we do fingerprints, and DNA swabs for offenders,” Hurley said.

CBS 17 wanted to find out what the current staffing shortages have meant for those who work in our state prisons. The Department of Public Safety said they have 9200 correctional officer positions, 1800 of them are vacant. But when you add in officers who are out on medical or military leave along with training, the functional vacancy rate is 30 percent.

CBS 17 asked Hurley if the vacancy rate creates safety issues inside the prison. “Well, I think we move around to cover that issue,” he explained.

Correctional officers are only armed with pepper spray, a baton, and a radio.

Then consider how little they’re paid, starting salary is just over $33,000 a year.

CBS 17 asked Simpson if the salary had presented financial hardships. “I would say I’m pretty sure we all have,” she explained.

CBS 17 asked Pamela Walker with the N.C. Department of Corrections about the challenges the salary presents trying to hire people. “It is very, very difficult,” Walker said.

Walker admits some left the profession after the attack inside the Pasquotank Correctional Institution. Staffing shortages then meant only one correctional officer was overseeing 33 inmates. Four prison employees were killed.

CBS 17 asked Walker why staffing hadn’t improved. “Our response is that we are doing all that we possibly can that’s within our power to increase pay, to make the prisons safer, to improve the offender’s outcomes,” she said.

State lawmakers would need to approve raises for correctional officers. Senate Republicans are proposing a seven percent raise. Others said more is needed.

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