'It's a warzone' NC prison employee says of work environment

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - North Carolina corrections employees who work at prisons across the state are speaking out about the dangerous working environment inside the state's prisons in the wake of a deadly prison fire and attempted escape that has left three corrections officers dead.

Veronica Darden, Justin Smith and Wendy Shannon died after inmates set a fire in a portion of the Pasquotank Correctional Institution in northeastern North Carolina in early October. Darden and Smith died in the immediate after math of the fire. Shannon died several weeks later of injuries sustained in the attempted prison escape. Nine other prison employees were injured in the incident.

In April, Sergeant Meggan Callahan, a corrections officer at the Bertie Correctional Institution, was killed by an inmate who, an autopsy says, scalded her with boiling water and beat her to death with a fire extinguisher.

A total of four North Carolina corrections officers have died on duty in 2017 and prison employees say they fear another major incident could happen at another state prison at any time.

WBTV spoke with two corrections employees in the weeks following the attempted prison escape in October.

Both employees wanted to speak about what they consider to be unsafe conditions inside the state's prisons but asked their identities be hidden out of fear they would lose their jobs if state corrections officials knew they were blowing the whistle.

"It's a warzone every time you step in there," one corrections employee, who has worked in the state's prisons since the early 1990s and currently works in an administrative role, said.

"A lot of things need to be changed and they need to do it quickly.

A report released by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety in 2016 showed 845 inmates were charged with assaulting a corrections officer. That averages out to more than two assaults a day.

The second corrections employee WBTV talked with, a prison guard who has spent decades working in prisons, said it's only a matter of time before something worse happens inside a state prison.

"It's always been said that the inmates allow us to work there because we're outnumbered to severely," he said.

Erik Hooks, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, issued the following statement in response to a request for comment from WBTV:

The safety of our employees is my top priority here at the Department of Public Safety. I understand the concerns our employees have, especially considering the horrific incident at Pasquotank Correctional Institution.

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