Under Fire for Negligence, North Carolina Prisons Chief Seeks New Funding for Mental Health Treatment

North Carolina corrections chief David Guice wants more than $20 million to improve the treatment of people with mental illness in the state’s prisons. His request comes on the heels of two recent reports showing neglect and abuse of prisoners with psychiatric disabilities in North Carolina, and the death in custody of one such individual, Michael Anthony Kerr. According to autopsy report findings released in September, Kerr died last March of dehydration after being held in solitary confinement for 35 days.
Guice heads up the state’s prison system as commissioner of the Department of Public Safety’s Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice. His request was made last Thursday at a meeting of the state’s Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety, held to discuss North Carolina’s treatment of prisoners suffering from mental illnesses.
At the meeting, Guice cited the difficulties in providing adequate care for 4,600 people – 12 percent of the total prison population – requiring mental health services. The prison system wants the state’s upcoming budget to include funding for more than 300 additional mental health care staff statewide, 64 more for Central Prison’s mental health unit, and 76 probation officers.

UPDATED: From One North Carolina Prison, Reports of an Eight-Month Lockdown

September 11, 2014 | Solitary Watch | 

UPDATE (September 18, 2014): Solitary Watch received the following statement via email from North Carolina Department of Public Safety spokesperson Keith Acree:

The evolving lockdown situation at Scotland Correctional Institution has affected about 600 inmates in close custody regular population housing. The medium custody (~540) and minimum custody (~240) populations have not been affected nor have those on control status (~230). The entire prison population today is 1,663.

We implement lockdowns when needed to ensure the safety of inmates and staff and to prevent injuries. The December lockdown was prompted by a series of fights between large groups of inmates at Scotland that resulted in injuries to inmates and staff. Since the beginning of 2014, the institution has recorded 61 actual or attempted assaults on staff and 20 actual or attempted inmate on inmate assaults.

At this point, the lockdown for close custody regular population (RPOP) has stepped down to a point that we call “managed observation”. Close custody RPOP inmates are now allowed about 4 hours of out-of-cell time daily (compared to about 8 hours before the Dec. 28 fights that began the lockdown).

Visiting, outdoor recreation, telephone use and canteen privileges have resumed. Vocational and educational programs are in session and the prison’s two Correction Enterprises plants (a sewing plant and the Braille plant) are operating normally. Inmates continue to receive hot meals brought to their cells. All activities are occurring in small groups. Religious services have not yet resumed. A new chaplain began work this week.

Since the lockdown began Dec. 28, restrictions have been lifted in 11 progressive steps, based on inmate behavior and cooperation, to reach the point where we are today. Continue reading

ACLU: County Jails Are Not Compliant With Prison Rape Elimination Act

From: WUNC, May 15, 2014:

A new report from the ACLU of North Carolina suggests many of the state’s county jails are not compliant with sexual assault prevention measures. The group says of the state’s 100 counties, 58 responded to requests regarding the measures jails take to prevent the assault of prisoners. None of those 58 were in full compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a 2003 federal law.

The group’s report focuses heavily on compliance involving inmates under the age of 18. Where most counties seem to be falling down is with keeping incarcerated youth (a particularly vulnerable population) separate from incarcerated adults.

“Their sleeping quarters are separated but the rest of the time they are not separated from the adult population,” said Sarah Preston, Policy Director for the ACLU of North Carolina. She points out that many facilities were not initially meant to house separate populations in the first place.

“The facilities never really were designed for juveniles, and therefore they were not designed to make it easy to keep the juveniles separate,” said Preston. “So we’re just kind of throwing these 16- and 17-year-olds in with the adult population. And that’s something that was a roadblock for some of these facilities that might want to comply.”

Nine of the 58 respondents looked to be attempting full-compliance, according to the report.

Read the rest here.

Judge to hear arguments in Central Prison lawsuit

Central Prison (North Carolina)
RALEIGH, N.C. — A federal judge was scheduled to hear arguments Thursday about dismissing a lawsuit that accuses guards at North Carolina’s maximum security prison of sadistically beating inmates, resulting in broken bones and wheelchair confinement.

U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle planned to consider whether there is enough evidence already presented in court documents to go ahead with the lawsuit on behalf of eight inmates at Central Prison in Raleigh.

The inmates accuse 19 correctional officers of taking handcuffed and shackled inmates from solitary confinement cells where they were placed for disciplinary reasons to blind spots out of view of security cameras, then severely beating them. Former prison administrators Gerald Branker and Kenneth Lassister are accused in the lawsuit of failing in their duties for not developing policies on investigating inmate abuse complaints and to preserve video tapes that might contain evidence from being erased.

View the entire story.


Support for NC Hunger Strikers: Sign Petition

Please sign here: http://www.change.org/petitions/nc-prisoners-on-hunger-strike#

See also: Solitarywatch of August 1, 2012 and here at Internationalist Books Collective.

On Monday July 16th, prisoners began hunger strikes at Bertie CI in Windsor, Scotland CI in Laurinburg, and Central Prison in Raleigh. Targeting a wide range of conditions related but not exclusive to solitary confinement, the prisoners have vowed not to eat until their demands are met.

Prisoners have encouraged supporters to call or fax the administrations of these different facilities as well as Director Robert Lewis (see information below), to “march or protest in front of Central Prison and others,” “boycott all products being sold in these prisons,” and to “contact media outlets and let them know what we are doing.”

The prisoners have listed the following demands (listed at the bottom), though they are also encouraging others to include any other grievances specific to their conditions. It is still unclear how many prisoners are currently participating, but correspondence with those on the inside has made it clear that the strike has spread to three at least three different facilities.

Constant attention and pressure on administrations can help make this strike a success, and protect those who are putting their lives on the line.


– Law Libraries. We are tired of being railroaded by the courts, and having our rights violated by prison staff and officers. NC Prison Legal Services are inadequate and oftentimes do not help us at all. A law library is needed to enable us to legally defend ourselves.

– An immediate end to the physical and mental abuse inflicted by officers.

– Improve food, in terms of quality and quantity.

– A better way to communicate emergencies from cells; many emergency call buttons are broken and never replaced, and guards often do not show up for over an hour. At least one prisoner has died this way.

– The canteens that serve lock up units need to make available vitamins and personal hygiene items.

– An immediate stop to officers’ tampering or throwing away prisoners’ mail.

– Education programs for prisoners on lock-up.

– The immediate release of prisoners from solitary who have been held unjustly or for years without infractions; this includes the Strong 8, sent to solitary for the purpose of political intimidation.

– The immediate end to the use of restraints as a form of torture.

– The end of cell restriction. Sometimes prisoners are locked in their cell for weeks or more than a month, unable to come out for showers and recreation.

– The theft of prisoners’ property, including mattresses and clothes. When on property restriction, we are forced to sleep on the ground or steel bed frames naked, with no bedding.

– Medical privacy and confidentiality. Guards should not be able to listen in on our medical problems when on sick call.

– Change our cell windows to ones which we can see through. The current windows are covered with feces and grime. Not being able to see out is sensory deprivation, and makes us feel dissociated from everything that exists outside of prison.

– An immediate repair of cell lights, sinks, toilets, and plumbing.

– Toilet brushes should be handed out with cell cleaning items.

– The levels of I-Con, M-Con, and H-Con need to be done away with altogether. When one is placed on Intensive Control Status (I-Con), one is placed in the hole for six months and told to stay out of trouble. But even when we stay out of trouble, we are called back to the FCC and DCC only to be told to do another six months in the hold, infraction free.

Death row prisoner Marcus Robinson clearly demonstrated that racial bias had influenced his death sentence

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP)

Dear Fellow Abolitionists,

This morning in North Carolina’s first test case of its Racial Justice Act, Judge Gregory Weeks ruled that death row prisoner Marcus Robinson clearly demonstrated that racial bias had influenced his death sentence. This is a truly historic moment.

Today’s decision marks a new day for justice in North Carolina, where the legal system acknowledges the unsavory role that race plays in the decision to seek the death penalty, against whom, and for what crimes. It respects the rights of persons of all races to serve on juries.

The decision is a significant step in the right direction. And, it will save many lives. With this ruling, North Carolina continues its leading role as a state willing to honestly and fairly examine the affect of race in its criminal justice system.

Read more in initial news stories here, and there is this analysis on the Huffington Post. You can watch video from the ruling here. Download the ruling and read it for yourself, here.

This decision is rather timely, especially in light of Sunday’s 25th anniversary of the McCleskey decision, and just days after the release of a new study from Duke University demonstrating the greater likelihood of all-white juries to convict defendants of color.

In McCleskey, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to provide relief from a demonstrated pattern of racial bias in death sentencing. Instead the Court said that it was up to the legislature to address the concern as a matter of public policy. In enacting the Racial Justice Act, the North Carolina General Assembly and Governor Perdue have done that, making it clear that the state of North Carolina rejects the influence of race discrimination in the administration of the death penalty.

Today’s decision is a testament to the fact that we must not allow capital punishment to force us to abandon our basic commitment to fairness. With Sunday’s anniversary of McCleskey, the juxtaposition of all of this is sweet.

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty congratulates the broad coalition of North Carolinians who have worked so hard for this day, including the Legislative Black Caucus, the extraordinary legal team, grassroots organizers and leaders from a variety of organizations, clergy and communities of faith, and others. It has been an incredible and inspiring effort. Today you have struck a major blow for justice. Thank you!