NC’s prisons turn to private security guards to fill staffing gaps during COVID-19

Updated: Jun. 10, 2020 at 5:45 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – The North Carolina prison system has contracted with a private security firm to provide armed guards at some prisons across the state.

Salisbury-based P&G Security will be paid up to $1.4 million to provide security guards to work at prisons across the state, a prison spokesman said.

According to the spokesman, the company will first provide staff at Neuse Correctional Institution in Goldsboro and Southern Correctional Institution in Troy.

The private security guards will receive training and equipment from DPS and are scheduled to be on the job by June 22. The hired guards will staff towers, conduct roving patrols and perform security screenings, the prison spokesman said.

A provision allowing the state to temporarily hire private security guards to staff state prisons was included in the COVID-19 Recovery Act, which was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor in early May.

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A second bill, passed by the legislature and still awaiting action from the governor, would allow the state to continue paying for private security guards for up to two more years.

Prison leaders have struggled with massive staffing shortages for years. The prison spokesman acknowledged as much in his statement.

“Prisons continues to experience high staff vacancy rates at facilities around the state. The COVID-19 pandemic presents additional challenges to maintain appropriate staffing levels,” Spokesman John Bull said.

A question-and-answer document created as part of the procurement process and obtained by WBTV shows that P&G Security will provide four armed security guards and one supervisor for each 12-hour shift at the prisons where the company’s services are used. There is a total of four shifts used to schedule staff at a prison.

Bull said the state will pay P&G $29 per hour for security guards and $36 per hour for supervisors. That total, he said, includes all labor, materials, transportation, overhead and the vendor’s profit.

The procurement document also outlines the extensive training the company’s security guards will receive. The private staff will also use state-issued weapons and duty gear.

By comparison, a state-employed corrections officer makes between $15 and $16 an hour.

Bull attempted to explain the discrepancy in the hourly rate the state is paying P&G and the rate state corrections officers are paid by pointing to the added benefits the state employees receive.

“We’ll note as state employees, the compensation package for DPS correctional professionals includes salary, paid holidays, vacation and sick leave, health insurance and retirement benefits,” Bull said.

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Bull’s statement also went out of its way to say the private security guards were not intended to replace state-employed corrections officers.

“This temporary contract in no way means or implies the Department of Public Safety is moving toward privatization of its prisons,” Bull said. “These temporary contract workers will have limited duties. They are NOT replacing our full-time staff.”

News of the move to hire private security guards to staff prisons comes weeks after state and local law enforcement officers across North Carolina were asked if they would volunteer to work in state prisons, in roles similar to those that P&G has been contracted to fill.

An email sent last week by Eric Copeland, the director of the North Carolina DMV’s License and Theft Bureau, shows agents in his department overwhelmingly rejected the idea.

“Out of the 144 responses received, 82% said that they would not be interested in assisting DPS,” Copeland wrote in an email sent to all agents in is department.

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