by Billy Ball
Nearly a year after a mentally ill prison inmate died of dehydration following a month-long stay in solitary confinement, North Carolina officials are touting two dozen corrective actions they say will prevent future incidents.
The list, presented as an exclusive to the Indy, includes new prison management teams, new policies, expanded crisis intervention training for prison staff and a task force of prison leaders and mental health experts to make recommendations on the use of solitary confinement on mentally ill prisoners.
As the Indy reported last year, Michael Anthony Kerr died during a transfer to Raleigh's Central Prison after spending weeks in isolation at Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville. According to multiple sources, Kerr—who suffered from psychotic symptoms—was not eating or drinking in his isolated cell, covered in his own feces and without treatment for his mental illness.
Prison officials nationwide and in North Carolina have long viewed solitary confinement, which typically denotes isolation 23 hours a day, as a means of therapy for inmates with mental illness. But many mental health professionals say solitary confinement may only exacerbate mental illness.
Following the Indy report, the N.C. Department of Public Safety announced nine dismissals, although at least one of those workers has been hired back at a lower position. Another 20 to 30 workers were reassigned or disciplined. The coverage of Kerr's death also prompted investigations by the State Bureau of Investigation, Disability Rights N.C. and a federal grand jury.
Prison leaders will also be requesting increased funding from the N.C. General Assembly in order to give prison staff a raise. Officials say increased pay would lead to increased diligence. More on this to come.