RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - The top administrator at Albemarle Correctional Institution will retire this spring. An assistant superintendent has been demoted and two officers have left their jobs after a WBTV Investigation uncovered waste and security problems at the prison.
Over the period of several weeks last fall we watched the inmate transfer bus leave Albemarle in route to the Division of Prison's transfer station in High Point. The crew we followed purposely racked up extra miles. The officers also killed time by making unauthorized stops at truck stops, restaurants and rest areas. The 70-mile 90-minute one-way trip turned into a 115-mile 3-hour ride.
The WBTV News investigation triggered a state-wide review of the transfer system.
"We did a thorough investigation," said North Carolina's Director of Prisons George Solomon. "What they (the officers) were doing was outside their own policy."
It wasn't hard to make that determination. Guards should be wearing guns, routes should be as short as possible and stops are to be made only for emergencies.
So, who else knew this was going on?
"Everybody there knows," said a former prison guard who asked that we protect his identity. "Officers all they way up to the administrators."
Several other people with direct knowledge of operations at the prison said the same thing. There are also travel logs that show the miles logged. The logs were signed off on by supervisors.
"There were additional people at the facility that knew what was going on, or they should have known it was going on," said Solomon.
It raises the question of why it was allowed to go on. Logs obtained by WBTV News shows it had been happening for several years. Multiple sources say the drivers were actually told to take their time, at least on the way back to the prison. They needed to wait for road crew officers to return to the prison. Those were the officers guarding inmates picking up trash on highways as part of a contract with the NCDOT. WBTV was told the drivers need those road crew officers to help process the new inmates.
The bus drivers, we followed on the trips to and from High Point, told state investigators the same thing.
Solomon says the drivers were not ordered to stay away.
"Supervision says they were never told that," said Solomon.
It was the supervisors word against the drivers. Either way, Solomon says the drivers should have just come back on time.
"Once again their policy is to be followed. They should be following their own policy," said Solomon. "(The officers should have) spoke up and if they spoke up I think it would have been addressed."
WBTV News has been told speaking up is not exactly the prison system way.
"You don't make waves," said the former prison officer who asked to remain anonymous. "Everybody is in fear."
WBTV News asked Solomon if there is a culture of fear.
"That was not determined by the investigation," said Solomon.
What has been determined is that several people are leaving Albemarle. One driver resigned. One retired. An Assistant Superintendent was demoted and transferred and the top man at the prison, Administrator Lewis Smith, will retire in March.
No one was fired.
Solomon also said they found no evidence this wasting of time and money was happening at other prisons in the system. WBTV News has no way of independently verifying the claim. Logs provided to WBTV News show miles, but they don't show time spent on the road, or how many stops were made. The Department of Public Safety is however, changing how it tracks its busses. A new system will allow for a better accounting of routes, times and stops.
DPS has also set up a toll-free tip line (click here) where employees can report waste, fraud or abuse.