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Federal grand jury requests prison documents

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Two employees of the Department of Public Safety have received federal subpoenas from a grand jury in connection with the death of inmate Michael Anthony Kerr.

Kerr, who was mentally ill, died of thirst in March while being transferred from Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville to Central Prison in Raleigh.

Now, federal officials have impaneled a grand jury as part of a criminal investigation, and have requested prison documents from Steve Harrison, the transfer coordinator at Central Prison, and Chris Crawford, administrative services manager at Alexander Correctional. Kerr was held in solitary confinement at Alexander Correctional for roughly a month before his death on March 12. The subpoenas indicated federal officials were investigating a suspected felony.

An autopsy report released two weeks ago attributed Kerr's death to dehydration. The report also noted that Kerr, who had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, was not being treated for his mental illness. Kerr family members have blamed the prison for his death.

Since the INDY reported the story of Kerr's death in April, the prison has fired nine workers. Two more workers resigned and another 20 to 30 were disciplined or reassigned. On Thursday, the N.C. Department of Public Safety reported that it had also assigned a new administrator—the top staff position—at Alexander Correctional.

Meanwhile, the department, the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation and the nonprofit Disability Rights N.C. conducted investigations into Kerr's death. Disability Rights announced its findings in late September, concluding that there were "severe deficiencies" in the prison's care for Kerr.

"The tragedy of Michael Kerr's death and what we have learned from it cause us to re-emphasize our commitment to the most professional and humane treatment of all those in our care and control," said DPS Secretary Frank Perry in a statement.

DPS said last week that it is rolling out a series of reforms for inmates with mental illnesses, including offering specialized crisis training for custody staff and medical and mental health employees across the state. Four facilities in the state, not including Alexander Correctional, were already using the training.

According to Pam Walker, DPS spokeswoman, the department will also:

1. Conduct multidisciplinary team meetings with facility management at Alexander Correctional Institution.

2. Hold a mental health review for all infractions committed by mental health inmates before placing them in isolation.

3. Conduct mission reviews of all facilities to "better serve the inmate population and reduce the number of facilities with multiple missions."

4. Relocate a residential mental health unit from Alexander Correctional to Maury Correctional Institution in Greene County.

5. Create a new Therapeutic Control Unit at Maury Correctional Institution and other facilities with specific mental health missions.

6. Per a recommendation from Disability Rights, DPS will contract with consultants to review mental health operations at Alexander Correctional Institution and prisons statewide.

7. Establish a task force to develop policies for the housing of inmates with mental illness statewide.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Inmate died of thirst"

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