State senators unanimously confirmed Todd Ishee on Tuesday to head the Department of Adult Correction, an enormous new agency with a 40% staff vacancy rate responsible for overseeing the 115,00 people in state prisons or on probation or parole.
Ishee previously headed the prison system when it was under the umbrella of the Department of Public Safety. He left that job to lead the American Correctional Association last year but was lured back for the position legislators confirmed him for Tuesday.
Lawmakers voted in 2011 to put the state’s Department of Correction within the Department of Public Safety as a cost-cutting measure intended to make the government run smoother. Legislators reversed course in 2021, opting to return to a system similar as before, creating the Department of Adult Correction.
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee interviewed Ishee last week before advancing his nomination to the Select Committee on Nominations, which also approved his confirmation Monday.
In his interview last week, Ishee talked a lot about staffing shortages at North Carolina’s more than 50 prisons. He also said it was important to offer educational opportunities to incarcerated people, which Ishee said makes prisons safer and also makes the incarcerated less likely to wind up back behind bars again after they’re sent home.
He also talked about prison safety, drawing a direct link between the safety of the incarcerated population and prison staff, and the prison system’s use of solitary confinement. Ishee said the prison system was revising its rules on restrictive housing, but it could not comply with the Mandela Rules on solitary confinement, which call for United Nations-member states to prohibit prolonged isolated confinement for more than 15 consecutive days.
“In corrections, we face some very, very harsh realities. You know, we’re supervising men that have killed employees of ours. And because of that level of dangerous, some [people] need to be in restrictive housing longer than 15 days,” Ishee said. “There are some [people] that just pose such a serious safety risk that they’ve got to be placed in that more controlled environment for beyond 15 days.”
The comment is notable because Gov. Roy Cooper’s own Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice has recommended the prison system model its restrictive housing policies on the Mandela Rules. Cooper is also the state official who picked Ishee to head the new Department of Adult Correction.
To read more about Ishee’s interview before the Senate Judiciary Committee, see this NC Policy Watch story from last week.