COA suspends all classes at prison
By Reggie Ponder
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.