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Reports of inmate abuse are flying fast and furious these days. 

In North Carolina, the sad saga of Timothy Helms has been unfolding for weeks in The News & Observer. It appears guards severely beat Helms, leaving him partially paralyzed. Last week we learned that guards doused the recuperating and wheelchair-bound Helms with pepper spray as he rattled a hospital room door at Central Prison.

In January, the News &Observer reported the allegations of an Anson County inmate that he was drenched with pepper spray and that guards wouldn’t allow him to wash off the burning chemicals or get prompt medical attention.  It’s enough to make one wonder what’s going on inside the prison walls when the media isn’t watching.

Even more troubling is that the state is moving in a direction that could lead to more reports of inmate abuse.  Legislators want to close several prisons and double-cell inmates to save money. At the same time, prison personnel are increasingly frustrated with pay cuts and longer hours. The elimination of popular rehabilitation programs won’t help matters.

A new coalition is organizing to help monitor prison conditions and advocate for the rights of inmates.  NC CURE, which already is looking into a plethora of letters from prisoners, is partnering with the Carolina Justice Policy Center to investigate those allegations even when the media isn’t watching.