Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Inmate conditions at N.C. prison troubling

Tomorrow's Observer editorial:

The findings of an internal review of conditions for mentally ill inmates at North Carolina’s Central Prison – conditions made public last week – are stomach-churning, no matter what excuses or reasons officials offer. Gov. Bev Perdue rightly called them unacceptable.

We echo the comments she made when told of the neglect and unsanitary situations an internal review documented: “Nobody expects really luxurious treatment for any prisoners; they’re there for a reason. But we also expect there to be very decent, humane, healthy conditions for the prison population.”

What were those conditions?

Inmates with serious mental disorders were often isolated for weeks, sometimes naked, strapped to their bunks in an improper manner that allowed them to bang their heads against the concrete wall.

In some cells, inmates were left in filthy conditions with urine and feces on the floor and roaches and ants.

Staff failed to maintain up-to-date records, track medications or sometimes respond to calls for medical help.

Chronic understaffing led to sick patients sometimes going untreated and suicidal inmates going unmonitored.

Alvin Keller, outgoing N.C. Secretary of Correction, was in full “explain” mode last week after an Associated Press story made public the findings from the review his division requested. He said the report completed in May “generated great concern” and that within “one business day,” officials began to take corrective action.

But Keller also sought to minimize media descriptions of the report, calling some of them “exaggerations” and “mischaracterizations.”

That’s possible. Yet even Keller admitted there were serious issues raised in this review that demanded attention.

Warden Gerald J. Branker retired this month in wake of the report after a meeting with officials about it in July. Branker will be replaced by Kenneth Lassiter, the warden at Charlotte Correctional Center.

In a statement last week, Keller said the facility is now clean and staffing is appropriate. He said that conditions are expected to improve when the system opens a $155 million medical complex and mental-health facility just west of downtown Raleigh.

Perdue too believes the new facility will help. She blamed prison staffing cuts for creating the environment for the problems. To coincide with the opening of the new prison medical facility, funds to hire “more staff, especially nurses and doctors, were added to the budget for the current fiscal year,” she said.

But more than a change of address may be needed. Vicki Smith, executive director of the advocacy group Disability Rights North Carolina, said there are systemic problems in how N.C. officials provide care for “these very ill prisoners.”

If that’s so, officials must devote attention to addressing those systemic issues. As state Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-Wilmington, who co-chairs the Senate appropriations committee for Justice and Public Safety, rightly noted: “We punish people for their crimes but… not helping people, not seeing that they get their medication and are treated like human beings is just wrong in every sense of the word.”


sanitizer said...

Perdue "thinks" new facilities will help? Just cause it's new is not going to stop the animals from urinating and defecating on the floor. Just leave them where they are at and buy the guards a couple of water hoses.

e1968 said...

Sanitizer, your comment is disturbing and very disheartening. Mental illness is a HUGE issue in our society today. When the mental institution began closing in the sixties, the prisons gradually became the holding cells for the mentally ill. These are very sick people who need very specialized, care by highly trained individuals.
Leaving individuals to live in their own waste, allowing circumstances where they can harm themselves, isolation, among other things are completely unconscionable and reprehensible.

A new facility isn't going to help much. A new mentality is necessary to properly address these issues.

By the way Sanitizer, you're a very lucky person not to suffer from any of these afflictions. At least if you were, from what you said, you would be absolutely fine with sitting in your own waste, or tied to your bed while roaches crawled across your naked body. Hey, maybe you would completely enjoy total isolation. You could play with your waste until the guards came and hosed out your "crate". Since that's the way you feel. Hope that works out for you!!!

rphillips71 said...

I am a former correctional officer at a high security prison not far from Charlotte. Untill the state decides to pay these correctional officers and other prison staff a decent salary, these prisons will always be understaffed! Im talking at least double and a half of what these officers start out with now! I know what these officers have to see and hear and deal with on a daily basis, working holidays, etc, and they are way way to underpaid. Its why I got out of it! Its never gonna get any better till the state pays these people what these jobs are worth!!

sanitizer said...

Hey e1968 My wife is schizophrenic, so yes I understand mental illness, probably much better than your sanctimonious self. . But these people committed crimes. A new facility will not stop their aberrant behavior. Where in my statement did I advocate the prisoners laying or sitting in their own waste. I indicated a water hose will take care of the problem. Sometimes throwing more money at something is not the answer. Perdue will simply order a study and her cousin Billy Bob will be appointed to reflect on the matter, Contracts will be awarded to political cronies and major contributors. In the end you will have an insane criminal sitting in a cell defecating on the floor.You are naive and judgmental, you are also quick to draw a conclusion that exists in your own mind. Try coming off your pulpit once in a while.