Bakers, like cooks, are paid $1 a day. Every other position earns 40-60 cents a day. Before the NC Sentencing Commission changed the law in 1994, incentive wage jobs came with gain time – time off of a prisoner’s sentence. Anyone charged with a crime after 1994 does not have access to good time (good behavior), gain time (work and school), and parole. Life without parole was implemented, and de facto life sentences became common. Federal and state funding for higher education ended, so did many other programs like the cooking school at Central Prison.
The food at CP did not begin to get bad until several years later, when the then NC Division of Prisons decided too much money was spent on food, the old school kitchen stewards retired, and an influx of new prisoners with life sentences filled all of the kitchen positions. The wages are the only thing that remained the same: bakers and cooks are paid the most, everyone else 40-60 cents a day.
Regular guards without cooking experience took the place of kitchen stewards, monitoring the making and doling out of food. There were too few of them to stop the black market of sugar, bacon and contraband passed out of the window where trays are received in the dish room. The guards could occasionally be bribed or were lazy enough only to pretend they cared. They knew the prisoners worked because they wanted to avoid solitary confinement. There are no other incentives. No gain time or better wages.
There are other jobs at Central Prison – hallway and cell block janitors, clothes house workers, maintenance assistants, canteen operators, and hospital janitors. The more technical or hazardous positions – canteen operators, maintenance assistants, hospital janitors and clothes house workers earn $1 a day; every other job at CP pays 40-60 cents a day.
It’s bad enough the NC Sentencing Commission eliminated parole and the ability for prisoners to earn time off of their sentences; but, when you try to live off a dollar a day or less in prison it makes for a miserable existence. Stamps costs more than the lowest wage. A local phone call costs nearly twice as much as the highest wage. Toiletry items and writing materials cost money too. Imagine being given life without parole, you don’t have friends or family after twenty years, no way to appeal your sentence, and nothing left to lose. What if it wasn’t LWOP? Maybe just 20-25 year and no reason to believe life will get better?
It is no secret the food prepared in the kitchen sucks because the guys who prepare it don’t care. They have no reason to care when it’s easy to fix their own food and mix slop for everybody else. It’s not as if they are being rehabilitated anymore; in fact, with guards standing over them like plantation straw bosses it’s easy to see how a bad day often becomes much, much worse.
Kenneth Lassiter, Director of NC prisons, made an appearance on WRAL’s Sunday morning news program “On the Record” (3-18-18). Along with the director of SEANC (State Employees Association of North Carolina), Lassiter spoke of the problems facing NC prisons as he answered questions from news anchor David Crabtree and Laura Leslie. The discussion focused on what changes will be made in NC prisons to address staffing shortages, undertraining, and general safety and security of every facility. There was a cursory question about the cause of 2017’s violence in NC prisons, to which Lassiter, made an equally cursory response about “idle minds in prison and no programs lead to violent problems . . “ (not an exact quote, but pretty close; feel free to google the broadcast for more information).
Lassiter’s comment about “idle minds” glossed over some extremely pertinent information that directly impacts public safety.
- Not every prisoner spends the rest of his or her life in prison. A majority will return to the free world after so many years of forced labor, and will have little to show for their time.
- The lack of higher education and rehabilitative programs breed “idle minds”. The work done in prison is not a marketable skill to employers on the outside, unless you’re talking about absolute obedience to authority. Idle minds released from prison recidivate.
- There are no incentives in North Carolina’s penal system, only coercive measures. There are no rewards for good behavior or doing the right thing. There is no give or leniency in the system, only a crumbling idea of what rehabilitation and human decency used to look like in prison. Now there is only despair and hatred for people who give you plenty of the stick without the benefit of a carrot.
I will give Mr. Lassiter credit in one thing. At least he deigned to mention “idle minds” in prison. He is aware there is more to the problem of prison safety than calling for the National Guard (Rep. Bob Steinburg) and executing people who have been sentenced to death (Rep. Bob Steinburg) so other prisoners will get the message North Carolina is tough on crime. I have to wonder though, do any of the prison officials and legislators on the North Carolina Prisons Commission know what it’s like to work for 40 cents a day? To be told at the end of an eight hour shift you’ve got to work overtime for free; to be forced to work or get punished?
My guess is they don’t, and neither does the general public when they call for harsher laws and more punishment. By now it should be obvious to the public, as it is to Kenneth Lassiter, that violence in prison primarily comes from a lack of incentive.
3-18-18 On the Record