Newspaper: 45 prison officers fired for sleeping since 2012
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Forty-five North Carolina prison officers have been fired for sleeping on duty in the last five years.
The Charlotte Observer said its investigation shows that the fired officers include those who fell asleep guarding inmates at hospitals, in prison control rooms or vehicles used to watch prison fence lines.
The state’s prisons director, Kenneth Lassiter, said guards are expected to stay alert at all times, and if they don’t they can face dismissal or other reprimands.
The newspaper says that interviews with current and former prison staff shows that some officers are tired because they work long stretches of overtime. They also say that low pay for prison officers means that many work second jobs, which also contributes to their fatigue.
The state pays officers at maximum-security prisons about $38,000 per year on average, or about $8,000 below the national average.
Vacancies on prison staffs have contributed to the state paying prison officers nearly $22 million in overtime last year - almost triple what it was in 2010. Data shows some officers routinely worked more than 20 hours of overtime each week.
The state’s prisons seek to avoid burdening employees with overtime by asking for volunteers and other ways of distributing the work, said Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Pamela Walker.
But Angela Smith, a former officer at Tabor Correctional Institution, said overtime was often required and officers who refused to stay were threatened with discipline.
“It wasn’t voluntary at all,” Smith said of working extra hours. “It got to be ridiculous.”
She said it wasn’t unusual for prison officers to arrive early in the morning and work into the night.
“The inmate knows,” Smith said. “They know who’s been there since five in the morning. They watch you more than you watch them.”
Anita Merritt, who worked at Pender Correctional Institution, was fired in 2016 after falling asleep during an 18-hour shift guarding an inmate being treated at a Hillsborough hospital. Documents show that the prisoner didn’t have his hands restrained as he should have.
Merritt said she knew the dangers of falling asleep on duty and often tried tricks to keep herself awake including pinching her neck and stretching. But she says that the exhaustion often overtakes officers.
“Everybody dozes off,” Merritt said. “We’d shake people, put stuff in their nose, trying to keep them up.”
Information from: The Charlotte Observer, http://www.charlotteobserver.com