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Prison lockdown affects shelter workload

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Friday, November 24, 2017

The animal shelter serving Pasquotank County is facing a shortage of volunteers due to the freeze on inmate labor after last month’s escape attempt at Pasquotank Correctional Institution.

Ann Pitts, director of the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Northeastern North Carolina, said in an interview this week that the shelter has had to hire temporary workers to make up for the loss of four minimum-custody inmates provided through PCI’s work release program.

Pitts herself has taken an unpaid leave of absence to help the SPCA afford to hire volunteers, but is continuing to help run the shelter, she said.

PCI has remained on lockdown after four close-custody inmates tried to escape, killing four correctional employees in the process. The lockdown also applies to minimum-custody offenders, who are incarcerated in a separate facility next to the close-custody prison.

Pitts stressed she and the SPCA haven’t lost perspective, and understand prison officials need to be cautious after the shocking, deadly incident. However, their decisions are still taking a toll on the SPCA. Those inmates served the SPCA well and provided almost half the workers the SPCA needs for daily shelter operations, she explained. She also noted those inmates were at the SPCA, not the prison, when the escape attempt unfolded.

In an email Wednesday, prison system spokesman Jerry Higgins said prison officials are “monitoring the situation (at PCI) daily, but do not have a date as to when the facility will come off lockdown, or when work-release inmates will be back on their jobs.”

The city of Elizabeth City and Food Bank of the Albemarle also relied on some inmate labor before the lockdown, but city and food bank officials described the lack of inmates as having little impact on their operations. They noted the work release program allows low-level offenders — often those who committed non-violent drug crimes — to acquire some useful skills and more smoothly reintegrate into society.

Pitts also said the animal shelter remains over-capacity for both dogs and cats. She encouraged more residents to adopt an animal. She also noted that adult animals are cheaper to adopt than puppies or kittens.

The shelter is full in part because it has to accept dogs and cats rounded up by Pasquotank County Animal Control. Asked if the SPCA had approached either Pasquotank County or Elizabeth City about emergency funding, Pitts and SPCA President Kim Parrish said no. Parrish said many organizations are struggling and it would likely be a “stretch” to ask the county or city for more money.

Pitts said the SPCA greatly needs volunteers during working hours, particularly in the mornings. She also said the work, whether directly with animals or not, requires little training. She asked people call or stop by the shelter for further information or to sign up. The shelter is located at 102 Enterprise Drive and its phone number is 338-5222.

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