ANSON COUNTY, N.C. — An Anson County prison long plagued by attacks on staff, corruption claims and other allegations is still the subject of a federal investigation.
In a special report, Eyewitness News Anchor Liz Foster investigated assaults on prison staffers and spoke to former correction officers.
"It's not safe," said a man who spent 10 years working as a correctional officer inside Lanesboro Correctional Institution. He left within the last year because of what he calls unfair treatment and poor pay. But he told Channel 9 that issues go far beyond that to gang violence, corruption among supervisors and understaffing.
"The prison should be overstaffed, not understaffed," said another former Lanesboro correctional officer. He too left within the last year. Both asked Channel 9 not to show their faces or report their names.
Both said officers at Lanesboro worked a unit with three or four other staffers, but they believe that the job required eight or nine people. They said understaffing creates opportunities for inmates to assault staff members.
TOTAL INCIDENTS AT LANESBORO IN 2015
Total Number of Incidents - 994
- PREA – 26
- Assault Staff – 64
- Assaults – 20
- Assault with Weapon – 7
- Attempt Suicide – 2
- Self-Inf. Injury -20
- Fire W/O Evacuation – 13
- Damage St. Prop. – 30
- Inmate Fighting – 47
- Staff Injury – 31
- Inmate Injury – 109
- Theft/Loss Inmate Property – 5
- Drugs/Fa-Alcohol – 11
- Facility Searches – 5
- Evac. due to Fire – 1
- In Cell Full Restraints – 39
- Use of Force – 162
- Cell Extraction – 7
- Alleged Use of Force – 5
- Inmate Illness – 29
- Staff Illness – 1
- Attempt Self-Inf. Inj. – 5
- Anticipated Use of Force – 5
- Drills – 226
- Damage Per. Prop. – 2
- Self-Injurious Behavior – 17
- Attempted Assault – 9
- Discovery of Cell Phone – 9
- Flooded Cell – 18
- Property Removal/Disruptive – 4
- Other – 65
"I've seen people get cut in the face. I've seen riots with multiple inmates jumping on staff," one former officer said.
Channel 9 obtained information from the state's Department of Public Safety revealing that last year, there were 64 reported assaults on staff at Lanesboro, more than one a week. Data also shows the number of assaults on staff in all custody levels of North Carolina prisons has gone up over the last six years, despite a drop in the number of inmates.
"You can't do nothing but pray and hope you make it out of there safe," one of the former officers said. "There have been times when inmates told me, 'We let you go home,' and that's very true. And when you report that stuff to upper management, they can't do nothing about it. They reply with, 'They're just talking.'"
Foster took those concerns to Todd Pinion, the state's regional director of prisons. He said DPS cannot add staff without approval and funding from the state Legislature. He said officers are trained to prevent assaults, but he couldn't share specific security policies.
"It would be nice if I could sit here and say that nothing bad will ever happen,” Pinion said. “But we do our best to try and prevent that every day, just by being aware, knowing policy, our training, being alert, reporting things through chain of command. Those are things we do and we do it every day at every prison."
Channel 9 learned that DPS does not track the number of planned attacks at the prison that have been foiled.
"Any data that would be kept may be wrong just because we don't know what it would have led to," Pinion said, explaining why the information isn't kept.
Channel 9 has investigated Lanesboro, a maximum-security prison, for years. In 2014, we reported that an inmate stabbed a prison administrator as he walked through the prison recreation yard. The Polkton Police Department investigated that attack and all the others.
Read our past coverage
"The state's worst of the worst are here… and attacks like this are going to happen," said Polkton Police Chief Matthew Norris.
Federal and state agents went to the prison in 2014 to investigate and questioned prison staff for hours about a flow of illegal contraband into the prison, including illegal cellphones that experts said gang members use to organize criminal activity.
Channel 9 confirmed the FBI is still investigating the prison two years later.
Both former officers said they filed complaints through their chains of command. One wrote letters to the SBI and the governor. They believe that Lanesboro Correctional and other state prisons will continue losing good officers until the problems they say exist at Lanesboro are fixed.
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