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Cooper visits prison, meets with local leaders in visit to EC

Governor Cooper Visits Elizabeth City

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (second from left) speaks with local leaders at Mt. Lebanon AME Zion Church in Elizabeth City on Thursday. Cooper made an unannounced visit to Pasquotank to check in on Pasquotank Correctional Institution and hear local concerns, such as funding for mental health services and education.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Gov. Roy Cooper made an unannounced visit to Pasquotank County on Thursday, during which he checked on Pasquotank Correctional Institution and heard local concerns on education, disaster preparedness and other matters.

Cooper met with local government and law enforcement officials, the leadership of Elizabeth City State University and members of the faith-based community, he said in a brief interview after the private meeting at Mt. Lebanon AME Zion Church. Cooper and his staff also explained he is visiting eastern North Carolina counties to meet with residents affected by Hurricane Florence.

Cooper said he also toured PCI during Thursday’s visit. His visit comes almost one year after four PCI workers died as a result of a failed prison escape by four inmates on Oct. 12, 2017.

Based on his conversations with prison staff, Cooper said “they are very grateful for the community rallying around and helping them.”

He continued, “We've made it a mission to provide better pay, better equipment, and more training to correctional facility staff in order to make sure those facilities are as safe as possible.”

Cooper also said those priorities were reflected in his recommended budget to lawmakers this year, and will also be part of his proposed budget next year.

Outside reviews have found under-staffing was a key factor in last year's escape attempt. Cooper said “they are making some progress on staffing,” but “they still have a ways to go in recruiting good corrections officers in the facility, and, you know, we have told them this has to be a priority.”

Asked how the state is responding to Florence, Cooper said his administration plans to seek more funding for both recovery and making coastal communities more resilient.

“We've got to rebuild stronger and smarter,” Cooper said. “We need more mitigation, more buyouts (of flood-prone properties), more resilient water treatment facilities, more resilient highways, and prevention efforts to try and divert floodwaters from communities.”

Cooper's staff noted he planned to visit Beaufort and Hyde counties after his meetings in Pasquotank.

Turning to his conversations with local leaders, Cooper said they called for investment in mental health services, combating opioid abuse, and more investment in education from “cradle to career.” Leaders also stressed the importance of ECSU to the region, he said.

Commenting on Cooper's visit in an email, interim Chancellor Karrie Dixon said ECSU was excited about his interest in its academic programs.

Notably, Cooper's administration has agreed, through the “Hometown Strong” initiative, to help ECSU enroll more military veterans in on-campus and online courses.

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