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COA suspends all classes at prison

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Col­lege of The Albe­marle has sus­pended all classes it of­fers at Pasquotank Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion in the wake of last week’s failed prison break at the prison in which two cor­rec­tional em­ploy­ees were killed and sev­eral oth­ers were se­ri­ously in­jured.

COA Pres­i­dent Robert Wyne­gar told the com­mu­nity col­lege’s Board of Trus­tees this week the col­lege has sus­pended for at least two weeks its classes at the prison in ba­sic skills, in­tro­duc­tion to sewing ma­chine re­pair, and food ser­vice tech­nolo­gies.

The col­lege em­ploys five part-time em­ploy­ees and one full-time in the prison pro­grams, said Robin Grif­fin Zins­meis­ter, COA’s dean of work­force de­vel­op­ment, pub­lic ser­vices and ca­reer readi­ness.

“All of these in­di­vid­u­als pro­vide in­struc­tion di­rectly to stu­dents, with the ex­cep­tion of one who ful­fills more of an ad­min­is­tra­tive role,” Zin­meis­ter said.

All six COA em­ploy­ees who were work­ing at the prison have been given other as­sign­ments for now, she said.

“With the prison cur­rently on lock­down sta­tus, these em­ploy­ees are ful­fill­ing other pro­gram du­ties or work­ing on an­other cam­pus,” Zin­meis­ter said Thurs­day. “How­ever, they are all still em­ployed with us.”

Zin­meis­ter said one of COA’s part-time in­struc­tors in ba­sic skills is a full-time em­ployee at the prison. Of the re­main­ing em­ploy­ees, all but one was at the prison when the at­tempted in­mate es­cape in­ci­dent oc­curred, and all of them got out OK, she said.

“Those (other part-time) em­ploy­ees were al­lowed to leave (the prison) by no later than 4 p.m. as non-es­sen­tial per­son­nel,” Zin­meis­ter said. “Each per­son ex­ited at dif­fer­ent times, but I can con­firm they had all moved through front gate se­cu­rity by 4 p.m.”

Ac­cord­ing to prison and law en­force­ment of­fi­cials, four in­mates started a fire in­side a prison sewing plant around 3 p.m. that they thought would di­vert cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers’ at­ten­tion long enough for them to es­cape over the prison’s barbed fences. Ap­par­ently only one of the in­mates reached the prison’s fence, but he got snagged on the barbed wire and had to sur­ren­der to prison guards. All four in­mates were cap­tured, and af­ter re­ceiv­ing med­i­cal at­ten­tion, were trans­ferred to Polk Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion, a high-se­cu­rity prison in But­ner.

Dur­ing the in­mates’ es­cape at­tempt, two prison em­ploy­ees — Veron­ica Skin­ner Dar­den, a Cor­rec­tional En­ter­prises man­ager, and Justin Smith, a cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer — were killed and 13 other staff mem­bers were in­jured, three crit­i­cally. Two re­main hos­pi­tal­ized at Sen­tara Nor­folk Gen­eral Hospi­tal in Nor­folk, Vir­ginia.

Charges could be filed against the inmates believed to be responsible for Darden’s and Smith’s deaths as early as Friday. Law enforcement officials have scheduled a press conference for 10 a.m. Friday at the Public Safety Building where they are expected to give an update on the investigation into the failed inmate escape and what a press release described as “resulting criminal charges.”

COA's Basic and Transitional Studies program, one of the three that’s offered at the prison, enables students to progress toward a high school equivalency diploma.

The introduction to industrial sewing and sewing machine maintenance curriculum consists of two courses that teach students to repair industrial sewing machines, Zinmeister said.

The food service technology program is offered each fall and spring semester in a 16-week format and prepares students for entry-level positions in industrial or commercial food service operations.

"We accept up to 18 students per semester and these students are able to earn Certificate I (in the fall) and Certificate II (in the spring) under the direction of a full-time instructor," Zinmeister said. "Students completing the program may then be eligible to move into an apprenticeship within the prison system working in the food management of the correctional institute."

Zinmeister explained that students at the prison often begin by earning their high school equivalency diploma and then proceed to take classes in machine repair or food service.

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