Amid staffing shortage, 64 women transferred out of Black Mountain prison
Following a chronic staffing shortage throughout the North Carolina prison system, the state’s Department of Public Safety has closed one unit of the Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women, a minimum security prison in Black Mountain.
All 25 staff from that unit were transferred to Craggy Correctional Institution, a minimum and medium security prison that houses about 400 men in Woodfin.
"We have consolidated operations and staffing at 30 prisons in the state as a result of chronic staffing shortages at all 55 of our facilities,” Prisons Commissioner Todd Ishee said in a statement.
“These types of unit closures/consolidations are designed to reduce safety issues that may result from staff shortages at specific prison facilities,” DPS spokesperson John Bull said Aug. 23.
Craggy Correctional’s staff vacancy rate sits around 28%, while Swannanoa’s hovers around 25%.
“We know of no injuries or medical issues that have arisen directly as a result of staff vacancies,” Bull said. “No offenders have been kept past their release dates.”
DPS transferred 64 incarcerated women from the Swannanoa unit, which closed over the weekend, to other prisons - Anson Correctional Institution, just east of Charlotte, or the N.C. Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh. After the transfers, about 75 women will remain at the Swannanoa Correctional Center.
As of Aug. 23, there were three people with active COVID-19 cases at Anson Correctional, and two at the N.C. Correctional Institute for Women. Throughout the pandemic, there have been 579 incarcerated women at the Raleigh facility who tested positive for the coronavirus and three who died from the disease. At Anson, three women also died from COVID-19, though significantly fewer, 154, tested positive.
There are no current COVID-19 infections among the women at Swannanoa. There have been 53 infections throughout the pandemic. According to Bull, 79% of the incarcerated women at Swannanoa are vaccinated, while 51% of the staff is.
The percentages are similar to those at Craggy: 75.5% of incarcerated men have been vaccinated, while 57% of staff have been. Jail staff are not required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
When incarcerated people are transferred within the prison system, they are placed into “medical quarantine” as soon as they arrive, according to DPS spokesperson John Bull.
"It is not like 'solitary confinement,' which is restrictive housing," Bull said.
"Offenders in medical quarantine are separated from the rest of the general population and housed together, predominately in a housing unit of their own set up for medical quarantine, where they are closely observed by medical staff and are temperature checked at least twice a day. They do not mix with the other housing units.
"Offenders in medical quarantine retain all the privileges as possible as offenders in the general population, keeping in mind they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and are possibly infectious. Restrictive housing is quite different," he said.
Ishee said the prison system in North Carolina has suffered for years from staffing shortages.
The Buncombe County Detention Center is also experiencing a staffing shortage. It has the capacity to hire 199 people, but 37 spots or 20% are open. No detainees at the jail are positive for COVID-19 as of Aug. 23.
“In general, around 200 new correctional officers are hired and trained each month. In general, a bit more than 200 correctional officers leave each month for other jobs or to retire,” Bull said.
Clarissa Donnelly-DeRoven is the cops and courts reporter at the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at email@example.com, follow her on twitter @plz_CLARify, or send her a text 828-616-0742.