Prison Problems: Overworked and Understaffed?

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HERTFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WAVY) — North Carolina state prison problems are making headlines again.

10 On Your Side investigated and found there are understaffing issues, detailed in a 78 page federal report. Since then, other corrections officers who work at another North Carolina prison are speaking out. 
 
River Correctional Institution is in Hertford County. It’s a federally contracted prison — run by a for-profit business, GEO Group Inc. 
 
Officers tell 10 On Your Side they’re worried an attack could be coming. 10 On Your Side is not naming the officers and their identities are altered for the report. 
 
“It’s coming. There’s already been several instances that, in my opinion, are tests,” one officer said. “The inmates are testing to see how the staff react, what they do and how they handle it. So that when it actually does come, they’ll have an even better plan involved and ready to go.”
 
Officers called 10 On Your Side with allegations against a federal prison. The allegations are from corrections officers who say the staff-to-prison ratio is too low and numbers don’t add up — meaning the consequences could be deadly, they say. 
 
“It’s only a matter of time before it goes upside down.”
 
The Rivers Correctional Institution sits on 257 acres of rural North Carolina land.  According to its website, it is a low security prison in Hertford County.  According to its website, the prison can hold about 1,450 prisoners at one time. 
 
It also states: “The National Capital Revitalization Act of 1997 mandated that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) house District of Columbia sentenced felons in private contract facilities. The BOP adopted a course of action that included soliciting competitive bids for contract facilities, closing the existing Lorton facility, and transferring the inmates to the contracted facilities.”
 
However, corrections officers say there is not enough staff to work all the shifts in order to keep the prisons and the community safe. According to the officers 10 On Your Side spoke with, many employees are putting in about 24 hours of overtime a week. 
 
“You are exhausted, you are tired, you don’t pick up on things. You also get to the point where you don’t care.”
 
Officers say the number of prison guards is dwindling,  forcing them to work doubles more than they want to. They claim they stay in it for the money, but it’s simply not safe.  
 
“Something jumps off and an inmate is getting attacked right in my face, and I don’t move when I need to because my brain isn’t registering that hey, he’s getting attacked and [I won’t] register, it’s going to be too late. He could sue me for that.”
 
Another officer says, “There’s more of an effort to keep the inmates happy than there is to take care of the staff who is there to protect the community and the facility.”
 
The former corrections officer believes it’s only a matter of time before something tragic happens here.
 
According to the officers, attacks like one at Pasquotank Correctional Institution — a state facility where inmates tried to escape and killed several employees in October — could happen if more officers aren’t hired. 
 
“It’s coming, there’s already been several instances that in my opinion are tests, the inmates are testing to see how the staff react, what they do, how they handle it, so that when it does come they’ll have an even better plan involved and ready to go to execute it.”
 
10 On Your Side took the complaints to both the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the company that operates the prison, GEO group Inc.
 
An email was receieved three business days after our request to the GEO Group Inc. with the reply:  “Thank you for your email. We would refer you to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.”
 
10 On Your Side had already reached out to the Federal Bureau of Prisons with a string of emails and phone calls. Eight questions were included, with examples such as: Sources say the prison is understaffed. Is this true? How many, if any, officers and staff is it short? What safety measures go into the prison to keep inmates and guards safe?
 
The Federal Bureau of Prisons did not answer any of our questions directly, but did write:
 
The BOP contracts with the Rivers Correctional Institution, operated by GEO, to house inmates committed to our custody.  Our contract with GEO requires levels of staff that are needed to ensure safety and security of the inmates and the general public. Moreover, the Rivers Correctional Institution must obtain and maintain accreditation through the American Correctional Association (ACA) and The Joint Commission throughout the life of the contract.  The contractor is further required to follow all applicable local, state, and federal laws, codes, and regulations for the jurisdiction in which they operate. GEO is paid for the management and operation of the correctional institution  in accordance with the Performance Work Statement; the level of performance is Source Selection Information and is not public information.  
 
You may find additional information on contract prisons our public website here https://www.bop.gov/about/facilities/contract_facilities.jsp, and you may seek additional information regarding the history of incidents through the FOIA process here:  https://www.bop.gov/foia/#tabs-0
 
According to the facility’s website: The facility received initial accreditation from the American Correctional Association (ACA) in 2003 and was reaccredited in 2006, 2009, 2012, 2015, and 2018 with a score of 100 percent. The facility was also accredited by The Joint Commission (TJC) in 2003 and was reaccredited in 2015.
 
However, corrections officers say they see it differently. 
 
“Pretty soon, I don’t think they are going to have any prisons open to be honest with you. People are taking pay cuts to take different jobs.”
 
On the Federal Bureau of Prisons website, it says: “We protect public safety by ensuring that federal offenders serve their sentences of imprisonment in facilities that are safe, humane, cost-efficient, and appropriately secure, and provide reentry programming to ensure their successful return to the community.
 
10 On Your Side made a Freedom of Information Act request for specific data on staffing numbers among other questions noted above. A confirmation was received and it was noted the request could take up to 9 months to fulfill.  

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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