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Prison chief defends exam decision

Prison Assaults North Carolina

In this June 5, 2018 photo, North Carolina Prisons Director Kenneth Lassiter discusses efforts to more accurately count assaults on employees and inmates during an interview in his Raleigh, NC. About four assaults take place in North Carolina’s prisons every day, according to new data collected by officials working to address violence in the state system. (AP Photo/ Emery P. Dalesio)

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Saturday, February 16, 2019

ELIZABETH CITY — The state's prison director is defending his decision to end promotional exams for correctional sergeants and lieutenants.

In a Feb. 1 memo, Director of Prisons Kenneth Lassiter said that he was suspending the exams for sergeant and lieutenant, effective immediately. According to the memo, Lassiter said the move is to “allow time for the agency to move forward in identifying and developing new strategies and curriculum that encourages personal growth and builds leadership.”

Although the promotional exams are ending, prison officials are not relaxing standards for promoting officers, Lassiter said in a phone interview Friday.

Lassiter explained that sergeants serve as key front-line supervisors in prisons, and may even be the highest-ranking officer on site for small or minimum-custody facilities. Lieutenants supervise at larger institutions, and may be overseen by a captain, as is the case at Pasquotank Correctional Institution.

Lassiter said that the promotional exam is a written test on policies, and requires officers take time from work to study. It's also a test, he said, that other states do not administer to their correctional officers — and a test that North Carolina hasn't administered to candidates for correctional captain for years.

Department of Public Safety spokesman John Bull said in a followup email that the captain exams were ended in the 1990s.

Lassiter said the division of corrections requires longer basic training for new officers, which aims in part to make sure they know policies well from the start of their jobs. That change is one of many that followed deadly prison attacks at PCI and Bertie Correctional Institution in 2017.

Lassiter said that the qualifications, requirements and expectations of sergeants and lieutenants have not changed, and candidates for those jobs are evaluated by higher-ranking personnel based on their regular performance reviews.

Lassiter also said that filling vacant officer positions was not a factor in eliminating the exams.

According to Bull, the prison system has 2,438 sergeant positions and 566 lieutenant positions.

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