by Billy Ball
Six months after North Carolina inmate Michael Anthony Kerr died during a transfer to Raleigh’s Central Prison, federal officials have opened a criminal investigation.
Indy Week obtained copies Friday of two grand jury subpoenas requesting prison documents from Steve Harrison, the transfer coordinator at Central Prison, and Chris Crawford, administrative services manager at Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville.
Kerr was held in solitary confinement at Alexander Correctional for roughly a month before his March 12 death. The subpoenas indicated federal officials were investigating a suspected felony.
An autopsy report released last week blamed Kerr’s death on 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 his death in April, the prison has dismissed 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 placed 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 last week, 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 Thursday 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.
More on this as it develops.