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Pasquotank prison remains on lockdown

121817KennethLassiter

NC Director of Prisons Kenneth Lassiter

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Pasquotank Correctional Institution remains on lockdown but continues getting on better footing, the state director of prisons said in an interview last week.

Kenneth Lassiter spoke with a reporter on Wednesday to give an update on PCI, where changes continue unfolding after last year's deadly escape attempt. In October, four inmates started a fire in the prison's sewing plant in hopes of escaping during the chaos. They failed, but stand accused of killing four correctional employees in the process.

Subsequent reviews of PCI found the prison was understaffed and didn't always follow security procedures — factors that likely facilitated the escape attempt.

Lassiter said PCI is “not quite ready yet” for the lockdown to be lifted, though some religious services have resumed there. He thanked the prison's community partners who have relied on inmate labor for their patience.

Lassiter also reported that more than a fourth of PCI's 264 positions remain vacant, a number that's little changed since the escape attempt occurred. However, he reiterated that DPS has reduced the prison's population to make it more manageable. PCI”s current population is 525 inmates, he said.

Lassiter also noted the closure of PCI’s sewing plant solved security problems that a review by the National Institute of Corrections found at the prison.

Lassiter also explained that increased training continues at PCI, under the supervision of interim Administrator Dennis Daniels. Daniels took over at the prison last month, following the suspensions of Administrator Felix Taylor and Assistant Administrator Colbert Respass. Daniels was previously the administrator at Maury Correctional Institution, located about 20 miles southwest of Greenville.

Lassiter said Daniels has been “well received” at PCI, where he worked before going to MCI, and is letting staff “heal” from last year's murders while also reviewing and improving operations.

Lassiter notes Daniels was the longest-serving administrator at any of the state's prisons with at least 1,000 inmates. MCI's capacity is about 1,500, according to DPS' website.

Lassiter credited him not only for running MCI well, but for helping set up a therapeutic diversionary unit for inmates with mental health needs and a veterans dorm solely for inmates who are also military veterans. Inmates who are veterans do better together, Lassiter noted.

Though declining to release any operational assessments or security audits for MCI — which he said could contain sensitive information — Lassiter said there were no staff fatalities under Daniels' watch. He also said there were not an unusual number of assaults, given the nature and size of MCI’s inmate population.

How long Daniels will continue to manage PCI is unclear. Lassiter explained Taylor is still the administrator of the prison, and decisions on whether to alter or end his employment, as well as Respass', are tied to the Department of Public Safety's ongoing investigation of PCI. Lassiter noted that both Taylor and Respass are nearing the maximum amount of time an employee can be suspended, but couldn't say Wednesday what DPS' next steps will be.

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