4 years after deadly attack at a prison, about 30% of correctional officer positions vacant in NC

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — When Senate Republicans proposed their budget last week it included 7-percent raises for correctional workers. It has other state employees receiving a 1.5-percent raise.

Why? Records from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety show about 30 percent of correctional worker positions are vacant. It said it’s working actively to recruit for those positions.

The attack inside the Pasquotank Correctional Institution back in 2017 highlighted the dangers correctional officers face on a daily basis. Staffing shortages meant only one CO was overseeing 33 inmates. Reports show the inmates were armed with scissors and hammers when four of them tried to break out of the eastern North Carolina prison.

Four employees were killed.

“This is a life-threatening issue,” said Ardis Watkins, the State Employees Association of NC Executive Director. They represent some of those COs. She said staffing and recruitment have been an ongoing challenge.

“It’s because the pay isn’t high enough for the danger of the job,” Watkins said. “People didn’t see much improvement and the staffing rates remained a chronic problem. We’ve seen people continue to leave.”

NCDPS said it has 9,200 CO positions. Of them, 1,800 are vacant. Factor in officers who are out on medical or military leave or in training, the “functional” vacancy rate is 30 percent.

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

Republicans in the Senate are hoping to change that. They proposed a 7-percent raise for them in their budget. That’s compared to just 1.5 percent for all other state employees.

“A 7-percent raise would certainly be an appreciable raise. That would be a good start. I think that the pay plan, the step pay plan, so folks know when they go to work in the prison system that they can actually move up and advance over the years,” Watkins said.

She points out that North Carolina State Highway Patrol and teachers already have that system in place.

“The sad reality is the difference has been made by the tragedies that have occurred in our prisons,” she said.

CBS 17 spoke with several COs. They said they’re only armed with pepper spray, and sometimes it’s expired. Because of all this, morale is low.

CBS 17 also asked NCDPS what it is doing to recruit new COs. They said they’ve just finished regional marketing campaigns and they point to their benefits package.

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