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Prison guard death raises questions

By Ames Alexander and Gavin Off The Charlotte Observer (TNS)

CHARLOTTE Bertie Correctional Institution was understaffed the month that Sgt. Meggan Callahan was killed there allegedly by an inmate who beat her to death with a fire extinguisher. State figures show that in April, when Callahan died, roughly one of every five correctional officer positions at the eastern North Carolina prison was vacant. Bertie isn t the only state prison with staffing problems. Statewide, about 16 percent of officer positions are vacant.

It s unclear whether better staffing would have saved Callahan s life. But some experts interviewed by the Observer said that s a possibility. Brian Dawe, executive director of the American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network (ACOIN), said Bertie like most of the nation s prisons appeared to be badly understaffed, based on the numbers that state prison officials provided to the Observer. Dawe, whose group shares research to help correctional officers, said that prison leaders who operate without sufficient staff roll the dice with people s lives.

And this time it came up snake eyes, he said.

Said Gary Harkins, former research and information director for ACOIN: People can get killed when you don t have enough staff. It s as simple as that. David Guice, the state s chief deputy secretary for adult correction and juvenile justice, said he does not yet know whether better staffing at Bertie would have made any difference the day that Callahan was killed. But he said that Gov. Roy Cooper has asked him to review the circumstances to ensure this doesn t happen again.

Prison leaders plan to examine many factors, including staffing patterns, Guice said. Many of North Carolina s maximum-security prisons are operating dangerously short of staff, current and former correctional officers told the Observer. One former officer, who rushed to a colleague s defense after she was slashed in the neck by an inmate at Lanesboro Correctional Institution, said the attack might have been prevented with more staff. At Bertie, Callahan was responding to a fire set inside a trash can on the evening of April 26 when an inmate beat her to death with the fire extinguisher she d brought to douse the flames, state officials say. Inmate Craig Wissink, who has been serving a life sentence for murder since 2004, has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with Callahan s death.

When Callahan was attacked, two other officers were nearby, according to Anthony Jernigan, who heads the State Bureau of Investigation office that covers northeastern North Carolina. One of those officers fell and hurt her knee when she went to Callahan s defense, Jernigan said. About 60 inmates were also near Callahan when she was attacked on April 26, Jernigan said. Experts said that better staffing at the prison likely would have meant more eyes and ears on what inmates were doing, faster response times and more officers on the scene.

They might have had enough officers to subdue that inmate before he got that fire extinguisher from the sergeant, said Robert Webster, a former captain at two North Carolina maximum-security prisons.

When you don t have adequate staff to manage the inmates, and there s an incident, unfortunately people can get hurt and sometimes people even die, Webster said.

Severely understaffed

State prison officials refused to say how many staff were on duty the day Callahan died. They contended those numbers constitute sensitive public security information. But prison officials did release the monthly figures, which show that the prison had 211 officers available to work in April. Those officers must cover two shifts and a number of them are off, sick or on vacation at any given time so only a fraction of the total staff was likely available to work the day shift on April 26. Bertie now houses about 935 inmates. At other prisons of comparable size, officers told the Observer, it s common for about 50 or 60 officers to work the day shift.

There are no national standards for minimum staffing at prisons, experts say. But Harkins said the numbers provided by North Carolina suggest Bertie was severely understaffed. A prison with 1,000 inmates should have a total of at least 300 to 350 officers, he said.

If you had more staff, then you might have been looking at hurt staff instead of dead staff (on the day Callahan died), Harkins said.

It s so dangerous

At Lanesboro, 45 miles southeast of Charlotte, it was common for 42 officers to watch about 1,200 prisoners on the night shift, according to Gregory McCoy, who worked there as a correctional officer from 2009 to 2016. That works out to about one officer for every 29 inmates.

It s not safe, McCoy said. All it would take is for five or ten guys to decide we re going to take over the prison. And we don t have enough staff to fight back. Early on the morning of Nov. 15, 2013, Lanesboro had just four officers in the chow hall to oversee the 100 inmates who were there for breakfast, McCoy said. Had there been more, he said, one female officer might never have been assaulted.

McCoy heard the officer curse and saw her struggling with an inmate. He ran over and subdued the prisoner. But by that time, the officer was already bleeding profusely. Inmate Donny Mosley, who is serving time for second-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon, had slashed her face and neck with a razor-like weapon.

I think if I hadn t gotten over there in time, (Mosley) probably would have cut her throat, McCoy said. The gashes in the officer s face and neck required 39 stitches.

But if another staff member had been standing beside the officer that morning, there s a possibility (Mosley) would have kept walking, McCoy said. At Polk Correctional Institution, north of Durham, two or three officers are routinely put in charge of monitoring more than 200 inmates in the chow hall, said Sierra Gravitte, an officer who this month resigned from the prison after four years on the job.

It s so dangerous, Gravitte said. It puts officers lives in danger to be honest.

The inmates literally say, You all are understaffed, so if we wanted to, we could overtake this prison. Recruiting challenges

Finding people who are willing to work as prison officers isn t easy. The pay is low an average of the about $35,000 annually at maximum-security prisons and the work is dangerous and demanding.

Guice, the prison leader, acknowledged that the state faces significant staffing challenges. Many of the large maximum-security prisons such as Bertie and Lanesboro are located in rural areas, where recruiting can be difficult. State prison leaders say they are holding many hiring events and partnering with schools and military bases to fill jobs. And they say pay increases approved by the legislature in 2015 will also help with recruiting. The state has recently made offers to about 400 officer candidates, so the vacancy rate will likely drop, Guice said. But while North Carolina typically hires about 1,800 to 2,000 prison officers per year, it usually loses about that many as well.

We ve got to find a way to retain the people who work for us, Guice said. We ve got a lot of folks who are not staying with us.

Prison leaders say they have begun assigning new officers career readiness coaches, who provide pointers on dealing with inmates, keeping themselves safe and attaining career goals. Prison leaders say that when staff vacancies at a prison rise, they make adjustments, such as moving prisoners, reducing inmate programs and sending fewer staff members to special training. Over-reliance on overtime?

To cope with the shortages, many prisons have also paid hundreds of thousands each year for overtime. Statewide, correctional officers received more than $12 million in overtime in 2015, the Observer found. Some correctional officers have more than doubled their income by working overtime. One Polk officer made $29,800 in salary in 2015. She earned an extra $36,500 in overtime that year, records show. In 2014, a Lanesboro officer was paid $29,800 but made another $35,600 in overtime.

Officers said excessive overtime work can leave them burned out and exhausted. Angela Smith, who worked as an officer at Tabor Correctional Institution from 2010 to 2014, said she was often asked to work overtime because the prison was so understaffed.

When your shift starts at 5:30 a.m. and you work 12 hours and you get told you re held over till 9 (p.m.) you re not alert. You re tired. Your morale goes down, she said. The staffing shortages also put officers in danger, Smith said.

You can only spread people so thin, she said. If inmates wanted to jump another inmate or take somebody out that day, that would be the time to do it when you re understaffed.

Public restrooms become ground zero in opioid epidemic

By Martha BebingerWBURKaiser Health News

A man named Eddie threaded through the midafternoon crowd in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was headed for a sandwich shop, the first stop on a tour of public bathrooms.

I know all the bathrooms that I can and can t get high in, said Eddie, 39, pausing in front of the shop s plate-glass windows, through which we can see a bathroom door. Eddie, whose last name we re not including because he uses illegal drugs, knows which restrooms along busy Massachusetts Avenue he can enter, at what hours and for how long. Several restaurants, offices and a social services agency in this neighborhood have closed their restrooms in recent months, but not this sandwich shop.

With these bathrooms here, you don t need a key. If it s vacant, you go in. And then the staff just leaves you alone, Eddie said. I know so many people who get high here. At the fast-food place right across the street, it s much harder to get in and out.

You don t need a key, but they have a security guard that sits at the little table by the door, directly in front of the bathroom, Eddie said. Some guards require a receipt for admission to the bathroom, he said, but you can always grab one from the trash.

A chain restaurant a few stores down has installed bathroom door locks opened by a code that you get at the counter. But Eddie and his friends just wait by the door until a customer goes into the restroom, then grab the door and enter as the customer leaves.

For every 10 steps they use to safeguard against us doing something, we re going to find 15 more to get over on their 10. That s just how it is. I m not saying that s right, that s just how it is, Eddie said. Eddie is homeless and works at a restaurant. Public bathrooms are among the few places where he can find privacy to inject heroin. He says he doesn t use the drug often these days. Eddie is on methadone, which curbs his craving for heroin, and he says he now uses the drug only occasionally to be social with friends. He understands why restaurant owners are unnerved.

These businesses, primarily, are like family businesses; middle-class people coming in to grab a burger or a cup of coffee. They don t expect to find somebody dead, Eddie said. I get it.

Managing public bathrooms is a tricky thing

Many businesses don t know what to do. Some have installed low lighting blue light, in particular to make it difficult for people who use injected drugs to find a vein. The bathrooms at 1369 Coffee House, in the Central Square neighborhood of Cambridge, are open for customers who request the key code from staff at the counter. The owner, Joshua Gerber, has done some remodeling to make the bathrooms safer. There s a metal box in the wall next to his toilet for needles and other things that clog pipes. And Gerber removed the dropped ceilings in his bathrooms after noticing things tucked above the tiles.

We d find needles or people s drugs, Gerber said. It s a tricky thing, managing a public restroom in a big, busy square like Central Square where there s a lot of drug use. Gerber and his staff have found several people on the bathroom floor in recent years, not breathing.

It s very scary, Gerber said. His eyes drop briefly. In an ideal world, users would have safe places to go (where) it didn t become the job of a business to manage that and to look after them and make sure that they were OK.

There are such public safe-use places in Canada and some European countries, but not in the United States, at least not yet. So Gerber is taking the unusual step of training his baristas to use naloxone, the drug that reverses most opioid overdoses. He sent a training invitation email to all employees recently. Within 10 minutes, he had about 25 replies.

Mostly capital Yes!! I ll be there for sure! Count me in!’ Gerber recalled with a grin. You know, (they were) just thrilled to figure out how they might be able to save a life. Safe spaces and hospital bathrooms

Last fall, a woman overdosed in a bathroom in the main lobby of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Luckily, naloxone has become standard equipment for security guards at many hospitals in the Boston area, including that one.

I carry it on me every day, it s right here in a little pouch, said Ryan Curran, a police and security operations manager at the hospital, pulling a small black bag out of his suit jacket pocket. The woman who overdosed survived, as have seven or eight people who overdosed in the bathrooms since Curran s team started carrying naloxone in the past 12 to 18 months.

It s definitely relieving when you see someone breathing again when two, three minutes beforehand they looked lifeless, Curran said. A couple of pumps of the nasal spray and they re doing better. It s pretty incredible.

Massachusetts General Hospital began training security guards after emergency room physician Dr. Ali Raja realized that the hospital s bathrooms had become a haven for some of his overdose patients.

There s an understanding that if you overdose in and around a hospital that you re much more likely to be able to be treated, Raja said, and so we re finding patients in our restrooms, we re finding patients in our lobbies who are shooting up or taking their prescription pain medications. Many businesses, including hospitals and clinics, don t want to talk about overdoses within their buildings. Curran wants to be sure the hospital s message about drug use is clear.

We don t want to promote, obviously, people coming here and using it, but if it s going to happen, then we d like to be prepared to help them and save them and get them to the (Emergency Department) as fast as possible, Curran said. Speed is critical, especially now, when heroin is routinely mixed with the much more potent opioid, fentanyl. Some clinics and restaurants check on bathroom users by having staff knock on the door after 10 or 15 minutes, but fentanyl can deprive the brain of oxygen and cause death within that window. One clinic has installed an intercom and requires people to respond. Another has designed a reverse-motion detector that sets off an alarm if there s no movement in the bathroom.

Limited public discussion

There s very little discussion of the problem in public, says Dr. Alex Walley, director of the Addiction Medicine Fellowship Program at Boston Medical Center.

It s against federal and state law to provide a space where people can use (illegal drugs) knowingly, so that is a big deterrent from people talking about this problem, he said. Without some guidance, more libraries, town halls and businesses are closing their bathrooms to the public. That means more drug use, injuries and discarded needles in parks and on city streets. In the area around Boston Medical Center, wholesalers, gas station owners and industrial facilities are looking into renting portable bathrooms.

They re very concerned for their businesses, said Sue Sullivan, director of the Newmarket Business Association, which represents 235 companies and 28,000 employees in Boston. But they don t want to just move the problem. They want to solve the problem.

Walley and other physicians who work with addiction patients say there are lots of ways to make bathrooms safer for the public and for drug users. A model restroom would be clean and well-lit with stainless-steel surfaces, and few cracks and crevices for hiding drug paraphernalia. It would have a biohazard box for needles and bloodied swabs. It would be stocked with naloxone and perhaps sterile water. The door would open out so that a collapsed body would not block entry. It would be easy to unlock from the outside. And it would be monitored, preferably by a nurse or EMT. There are very few bathrooms that fit this model in the United States. Some doctors, nurses and public health workers who help addiction patients argue any solution to the opioid crisis will need to include safe injection sites, where drug users can get high with medical supervision.

There are limits to better bathroom management, said Daniel Raymond, deputy director for policy and planning at the New York-based Harm Reduction Coalition. If communities like Boston start to reach a breaking point with bathrooms, having dedicated facilities like safer drug consumption spaces is the best bet for a long-term structural solution that I think a lot of business owners could buy into.

Maybe. No business groups in Massachusetts have come out in support of such spaces yet.

This story is part of a partnership that includes WBUR, NPR and Kaiser Health News. Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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Now well as guy he will be 87 like Larry King he will be doing. Cable shows on some network you never heard. I have Mary Kane was on the an infomercial on our our station yesterday at like 1230 in the afternoon wasn’t selling. Honey remembered as like this is awkward and he’s so creepy and turning. A that you he has sponsors X. I could then. A little used to. Gisele or Tom’s lady friend his wife obviously so is then she can meditate New York traffic she told. The folks at the David Lynch Foundation’s women of vision humanitarian awards. That the back of the taxi seems unusual spot to meditate. But sitting in traffic while rushing around the city is the perfect time to center yourself. Because it makes the rise or you’re still at first I know a guy you must not take taxes. Let’s just that’s a good point let’s let’s. You know amend this punishment car when she sits in the back the car serviced right I I I can’t say meditative like to I’d try anything but do you do you meditate. 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But here trying to hear your phone calls will get back into the air Hernandez story today we’ll get into a whole lot between now and 10 o’clock urine WE yeah.

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