COVID-19 Adds To Workload, But Heroes Work Through It

Author: By Jerry Higgins, Communications Officer

There isn’t a profession inside or outside law enforcement where employees have to work in an enclosed area with convicted felons every minute of every day. That’s just an average day for correctional officers in North Carolina’s state prisons, and what they do keeps people safe.

Their average workload is shared by healthcare personnel, facility maintenance staff, food service workers, programming and reentry experts and administrative staff that do all they can to keep all of this together. Think about more than 50 facilities housing more than 30,000 offenders all moving in the same direction – to make sure offenders are better people when they leave than when they came in. 

So, now the icing on the correctional cake is a pandemic featuring the coronavirus. Not only are our correctional staffs doing all they can to keep the offenders from catching the virus but they’re doing everything they can not to catch it themselves both inside and outside the facility. They’ve shared COVID-19 information inside the prisons to offenders – and staff -- since Day 1.

“What our correctional staff do on a daily basis is incredible,” said Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice Chief Deputy Secretary Tim Moose. “Now add the stress and strain of dealing with COVID-19 and it’s simply amazing how our employees have performed with excellence.”

Staff and offender routines have been incredibly altered. Programs and educational opportunities have temporarily ceased due to outside visitation restrictions. State community colleges and universities are not conducting classes on campus and aren’t providing instructors to prisons due to the pandemic. However, several community colleges have sent worksheets for Adult Basic Education/High School Equivalency Test and English as a Second Language students for offenders to work on so they will not be far behind when classes return. Offenders will also receive credit when the classes begin.  

Additionally, the NCDPS Office of Reentry Programs and Services distributed study materials to offenders across the state so they can individually review or meet in small groups to discuss. These items included detailed, hands-on information to help prepare offenders for life outside prison, including career options, how to complete job applications and ways to prepare for job interviews. 

Offenders also are participating in art, poetry and writing contests. Volunteers also send Bible study materials to offenders on a weekly basis. 

“In my 30 years in corrections, I have never seen a prison system have to deal with so much thrown at them at once,” said Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee. “Yet, through it all, our staff have been heroes. They are examples of the best of the best corrections has to offer.”

As the facilities have dealt with the pandemic, staff have worked hard to think outside of the box for ways to provide comfort and support to one another. Inspirational sayings have been written in chalk at the entrances of some prisons. Staff from other facilities have reached out to places like Neuse Correctional Institution that have struggled with the spread of COVID-19 amongst offenders. Phone calls of encouragement, as well as “goodie bags” for staff have played a role in lifting spirits, as well as support from the community such as pizza, snack bags and other items for staff and offenders.

“It really means a lot to hear from other wardens and facilities across the state,” said Neuse CI Warden Morris Reid. 

So, during Correctional Officers and Correctional Employees Week, thank a correctional staffer for their service during these tough times, as well as less stressful times – whenever that may be. They’ll appreciate it.