Prison gets advance notice of safety audit after state director said practice would end

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - A prison in Salisbury received advanced notification of a pending safety audit just days after the North Carolina Director of Prisons, Kenneth Lassiter, said his agency had begun conducting random audits.

Lassiter told lawmakers about the change last week during remarks before the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety held on March 15.

"We've hired 16 individuals that's primary job and only job will be to audit our facilities on a random basis," Lassiter said. "Before, our audits were announced. Now, our audits will be unannounced and on a random basis."

Emails obtained by WBTV show staff at Piedmont Correctional Institution in Salisbury received word last week that a safety audit would be conducted at their prison on March 22.

The emails show leadership at the prison directing staff to prepare for the audit.

"Make sure we are ready for this inspection," one email sent from a lieutenant at the prison said.

Document: Click here to read the emails

In another email sent on March 17, an assistant superintendent at the facility instructed staff to review log books - that are supposed to be filled out in real time - to ensure they were properly completed.

"Make sure you all are checking all tools and key logs on the floors, back lobby and master control," assistant superintendent Catherine Brown said in her email.

Later that same day, a prison staff member responded that he had addressed problems in a different type of log. "I have made sure all the chemical logs are caught up for the month on all shifts," the employee said.

In addition to touting the change to the safety audit process at the legislative committee hearing, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety also highlights the change on its website detailing prison safety reforms.

The changes come after WBTV obtained a recording of a prison administrative staffer acknowledging that the previous safety audit process purposely overlooked safety issues at some prisons.

"We've been auditing each other's facilities for years. And we know that we have just, 'I'll overlook this, you overlook that.' We all do it because we're all buddies!" Melanie Wood, a business systems analyst in the prison's human resources department said at a meeting in December 2017. "We look after each other. That's what we do. We need fresh eyes to go in and look at facilities to say, 'This is an issue. This is what needs to be done to correct it.'"

A spokesman for the prison system provided the following statement after this story was published:

Mr. Lassiter referenced security audits at the General Assembly and not safety audits. The 16 individuals whose primary job will be to audit the facilities will perform security audits, not safety audits (which are not the same).The National Institute of Corrections provided training to NCDPS staff so they can do security audits at the state's 55 prisons.

When a WBTV reporter asked for further clarification about why the statement said both types of audits were unannounced, the spokesman said "Some safety audits are scheduled. Some safety audits are not."

WBTV has asked for a policy manual outlining the different types of audits and the required procedures, a spokesman said he would check into such a manual but did not provide one within several hours of the inquiry.

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