Steinburg: Double prison death benefit


State Rep. Bob Steinburg


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, May 20, 2018

State Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, plans to ask fellow lawmakers to double the death benefit paid to families of correctional employees killed in the line of duty.

Steinburg is also proposing the new benefits be made retroactive to last spring, covering the employees killed at Bertie Correctional Institution and Pasquotank Correctional Institution.

In an interview Friday, Steinburg said he will file a bill Monday that will double correctional employees' death benefits from $50,000 to $100,000. That will be in line with death benefits the state pays to other law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, he said. Steinburg also said he's hoping to see the bill pass quickly and with widespread support.

Steinburg is proposing the legislation following the murders of Sgt. Meggan Callahan, killed last spring by a Bertie inmate, and the deaths of four employees at Pasquotank Correctional Institution during four inmates' failed escape attempt on Oct. 12. Those employees were correctional officers Justin Smith and Wendy Shannon, Correction Enterprises site manager Veronica Darden, and maintenance engineer Geoffrey Howe.

Steinburg also said the legislation's effective date would be April 2017, covering all four Pasquotank employees as well as Callahan. The legislation would also temporarily increase the state's line item for death benefits from $1 million to $1.25 million; it would remain at $1 million in future years, an amount that should more than cover death benefits going forward, he said.

Steinburg also said the legislation will need modification once introduced. Its current language omits Howe's position, but he said he will file a “preferred committee substitute” shortly after filing to revise the language and include him.

The five employees' deaths shocked the state last year and exposed a dangerous lack of training and staffing in North Carolina's prisons. Steinburg has become a vocal proponent for prison reform, and described the death benefit legislation as an immediate priority while longer-term reform efforts continue.

“It's just the right thing to do,” he said.