PSI: Sources say management knew about exotic inmate transfer routes

Just after noon, beige busses start rolling out of the Department of Public Safety's Inmate Transfer Station in High Point. Prisoners are again being scattered across the state. WBTV tracked the one bus headed back to Albermarle Correctional Institution. The two-man crew was once again in no hurry to get back. (Click here to see original report)

"Killing time," said Elton Riffle.

Elton Riffle was on this bus back in October. He spent 8 years behind bars. He was to be released once he got to Albemarle.

"Instead of taking direct routes to camps going from point A to point B, they want to go from point A to C,D,E," said Riffle.

WBTV captured the two-man crew on camera several times over the past couple months. The routinely turned a 90 minute one-way ride into three hours.

We watched the bus stop at a convenience store along highway 109. The lead officer hopped off and returned with what appeared to be food. A short time later the bus made another stop at a rest-area off Interstate 85. The officers would get off one at a time and neither was armed as they should be according to state regulations.

Riffle says during his trip, when one officer was gone, the other would sit back with ear buds in and eyes closed.

"You've got all kinds of things that can happen there," said Ronnie Strickland.

Strickland worked in the prison system for 30 years. Ten of those years he was at Albemarle. He says these stops the crews made are unnecessary and potentially dangerous.

"If that bus is moving it's not as big a target as it is sitting still," said Strickland.

This was not an isolated case, or short-term problem. Travel logs obtained by WBTV show extra miles and extra hours have been racked up for at least two years.

WBTV showed the video to George Solomon. He is the Director of Prisons for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. He says an investigation has been launched to determine who knew this was going on.

A former Albemarle Correctional Officer who we agreed not identify tells WBTV "everybody there (at Albemarle Corectional) knows." He said it goes from "officers all the way up to administrators."

It's hard to imagine they wouldn't know. The daily travel logs are signed off on by a Lieutenant and a Supervisor. The top man at the prison, the superintendent, gets what called a daily narrative. It shows all the work that has gone on at the prison that day.

"There's no ignorance to what's going on in your facility," said Strickland. "You're responsible for that facility and you have to know what's going on."

WBTV has been told by multiple sources, not only did management at the prison know what was going on, when it specifically comes to the return trip from High Point, the crew was told to take their time.

The former officer who spoke to us on condition of anonymity says it was done "because the inmates come back and they have to be processed."

It is a time consuming process. WBTV has been told the transfer bus stays away until daily road squads come back to the prison. Road squads are made up of current inmates who do work along highways. The officers guarding them are needed to help check-in the new inmates. The issue though, road squads shouldn't come back until 3 p.m. Sources say on those days new inmates transfer in, road squads often shave off an hour of work. The work is billed to the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

"They don't have enough staff at the facility to process the inmates," said the former officer. "So, robbing Peter to pay Paul."

WBTV asked for state records to verify when Albemarle Correctional road squads leave and return to the facility in order to reconcile the hours billed to the Department of Transportation. The Department of Public Safety denied the request. The department says it is not public record because it is "sensitive public security information."

It all leads to another question. If so many people knew what was going on, why didn't someone speak up sooner?

"Everybody is in fear," said the former officer. "You don't make waves. You keep you mouth shut and do what you are told."

"The fear of reprisal is elimination of state employment." said Strickland. "You no longer have a job."

We can tell you Albemarle Correctional is no longer handling the inmate transfer run. Another prison has taken over the responsibility. As for the two crew members. The lead officer is on administrative placement pending the investigation. The other officer is on personal leave.

The entire prison transportation system is under review. A more detailed report is expected in December.

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