Problems within the state prison system have led North Carolina’s state senators to propose turning the division that oversees prisons into a new cabinet-level agency and splitting it out of the Department of Public Safety.
State Senate Republicans announced their plan in a news release foreshadowing their budget proposal expected to be released late Monday afternoon.
“The thought from our budget writers, and our members agreed with, is that’s not working as well as it could and we’ve received notice over the past several years that there’s been a number of problems as far as our prison system is concerned,” Senate leader Phil Berger said at a news conference Monday. “We talked about splitting that out and having a separate cabinet-level agency that will help focus on the problems and needs there.”
To separate the corrections division into its own agency would have a baseline cost of $10 million, said Sen. Ralph Hise, a Spruce Pine Republican.
Hise said that creating the division includes funding medical care in the prisons, pulling the cost closer to $50 million.
Creating the cabinet position and funding inmates’ medical care were proposed in Senate Bill 501 filed in April.
The budget also includes an average of 7% raises for correctional officers with the creation of an experience-based salary schedule and a $1,500 bonus.
If Gov. Roy Cooper signed the Senate’s version of the budget into law; it would create the 11th cabinet position in North Carolina. Before the plan gets to Cooper, the House will put forward its own budget and the two chambers will negotiate.
North Carolina’s cabinet is made up of appointed positions, unlike the elected positions on the Council of State.
North Carolina once had more cabinet positions, but former Gov. Bev Perdue proposed and the legislature approved dropping that to eight in an effort to save the state millions of dollars.
The Department of Correction was one of the agencies merged in the new Department of Public Safety in 2012, along with the departments of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and Crime Control and Public Safety, The News & Observer reported.
In 2015, former Gov. Pat McCrory expanded his cabinet to 10 adding the departments of Information Technology and Military and Veteran Affairs, The News & Observer previously reported.
The Department of Public Safety is one of the biggest state agencies. It is led by Secretary Erik Hooks, who rose through the ranks after joining the State Bureau of Investigation in 1989. He currently oversees 37,000 employees including National Guardsmen.
Tim Moose is the chief deputy secretary of the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice. He was appointed to the position in 2019 after spending 35 years working in correction.
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