NC Public Safety leader outlines changes to prison security

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Tough questions from state lawmakers for North Carolina’s Public Safety Secretary after the deaths of five employees in state prisons last year, four in the same incident during an attempted escape at Pasquotank Correctional Institution.

Department of Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks talked about changes that are happening.

“I’m not here to make excuses,” Hooks told lawmakers. “We’re here to outline real solutions.”

Leaders from the Department of Public Safety detailed changes that have happened since those four employees were killed in October, including safety and security audits of all Correction Enterprises operations.

The state also is ensuring that all correction officers assigned to posts have basic training.

DPS officials told lawmakers that, last spring, there were 700 officers who had not received basic training.

CBS North Carolina asked Hooks if he found out about that after the Pasquotank incident.

“No, I found that out early on in the year and we started addressing that, as well,” he replied. “It was a new dynamic for me. I can say that when I started in law enforcement back in the 1980’s that it was not widespread, but it was a common practice.

Staff members said that DPS was almost through with the backlog in training and is on track to have every employee assigned to a post receive basic training by March.

Republican Representative Bob Steinburg asked Hooks about morale among correction officers and the difficulty to retain staff.

“Do you recognize this is a problem yourself,” Steinburg, (R-Chowan), asked.

“Certainly, assaults and deaths of your co-workers will undermine morale,” Hooks replied. “It has undermined my morale, as well, but it has not undermined my resolve.”

The Department of Public Safety also has ordered 13,000 stab-resistant undershirts for certified employees and is asking state lawmakers for money to buy body alarm technology for correction employees to have on them.

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