We recently sent a letter to Governor Cooper expressing our deep concern about the staffing shortages in NC prisons, which we believe put the incarcerated men and women, as well as prison staff, in grave danger. Sandra Hardee, our Executive Director, wrote
"Without adequate custody staff, officers working long hours and overtime can be easily frustrated and fearful. We believe this rising tension has led to the increased number of reports we’re hearing about excessive use of force and restrictive housing. Many prisoners tell us they do not feel safe in an environment of escalating fights among inmates, gang activity, and drug use. Unmet medical and mental health needs threaten the safety of the entire population, inmates and staff included."
While we understand that the COVID-19 pandemic is a factor in the current staff shortage and that NCDPS efforts are underway to secure additional prison staff, the current conditions in NC prisons are unsafe and imminently dangerous. To combat staffing shortages, the state temporarily closed 20 units and some entire prison facilities. Unfortunately, these closures have led to significant overcrowding, custody level conflicts, and a lack of adherence to COVID-19 protocols.
It is the state of North Carolina that bears responsibility for the safety and well-being of those incarcerated. We believe that immediate action must be taken to remedy the current staffing shortage. We have urged Governor Cooper to mobilize resources external to the Division of Prisons, such as community law officers, the Highway Patrol, the National Guard, and other appropriate state agencies. Furthermore, medical and mental health professionals from the state or community should be recruited on an emergency basis to assist with the provision of these critically important services to the prison population.
Perhaps of greatest impact, prison rolls should be critically reviewed to identify inmates that can be safely released into the community. The release of inmates, especially older adults with debilitating diseases, to families who welcome them could reduce the need for and expense of providing medical care. Additional suggestions to Governor Cooper included enactment of the Early Parole Policy and Expansion of the Extended Limits of Confinement program.
Letter to Governor Cooper sent on February 11th, 2022