Behind Bars: Why prison workers were fired

Behind Bars: Why prison workers were fired

You might be surprised to learn what happens behind bars at an area prison.We're not talking about the inmates. We're talking about the employees.

In recent months, WECT has reported when workers at Tabor Correctional Institution ended up on the wrong side of the law, including an officer indicted in a beheading plot.

One officer was charged with first-degree burglary. Another admitted to falsifying doctor's notes. The prison fired an officer after an internal investigation showed he used "unjustified force" when pepper spraying an inmate. Another officer was found sleeping on the job. Finally, a food service worker was terminated after allegedly keeping up her relationship with an inmate she met while working at a state prison in Scotland County.

88 permanent prison employees were fired statewide last year.

Officials say Tabor's numbers were on par with similar facilities and make up a small fraction of the more than 11,000 corrections workers across North Carolina.

"What you see from those few people or those few issues of corrective action isn't a true snapshot of our profession," said Kenneth Lassiter, deputy director of the state's prison system.

Lassiter contends the terminations at Tabor show that administrators there are doing what they're supposed to - taking action against employees who violate prison policies or the law.

"We can't expect to have a different outcome of the individual that we're sending back to society if he or she witnesses us being inappropriate," he said.

But Lassiter explained that recruiting and keeping good corrections employees at prisons like Tabor would be easier with better pay.

On average, correctional officers earn $29,000, but that could soon change.

Gov. Pat McCrory's budget proposal includes nearly $21 million to phase in a new compensation plan that would pay officers more for working at higher-security facilities.

North Carolina has three levels of prisons: minimum, medium and close. But they all pay officers the same pay scale.

So an officer at a minimum custody facility makes the same as someone at a close-custody prison like Tabor.

"The larger facilities and the close-custody facilities are much more complex," Lassiter said. "We're dealing with a much more violent inmate. An inmate (who) just began, most of them, the beginning of their time, and so they haven't adjusted to the confines of prison yet."

WECT learned that Tabor is getting a new leader.

Administrator Patsy Chavis, who has overseen the prison for three years, submitted her retirement letter Wednesday.

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