Ishee confirmed to head Department of Adult Correction

Todd Ishee was confirmed on Tuesday to head the Department of Adult Correction.

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.

Who’s on the guest list for the State of the Union speech?

WASHINGTON — While members of Congress may not be able to speak during the State of the Union address, they often get their message across through the guests they bring.

This year is no exception. Lawmakers through their invitees attempted to signal their approval or disapproval of President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party, or to highlight bills they hope will pass this session.

Republicans invited law enforcement officers to show their continued support for police, whom they’ve often accused Democrats of trying to defund. GOP lawmakers also invited prominent business owners, such as the CEO of a popcorn company and the head of a trucking company.

Democrats invited labor organizers, reproductive healthcare providers, gun control activists and family members who lost loved ones to police brutality. Democrats also brought guests who benefited from bipartisan legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act, which tackled health care and included incentives for energy efficient technology.

Biden will also use guests to highlight some of the laws he’s signed during his first two years in the Oval Office as well as areas where he hopes Congress will work with his administration during the 118th Congress.

Among those in the gallery overlooking the House floor will be RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, the mother and stepfather of Tyre Nichols, who accepted an invitation from the White House and Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford of Nevada, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was beaten by five Memphis, Tennessee police officers during a traffic stop on Jan. 7. He died three days later. The graphic video of the beating sparked protests against police brutality and renewed calls for police reform.

“President Biden has made clear that we must take action to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again,” the White House said in its guest announcement. “In addition to signing an executive order last year, the President continues to call on Congress to send the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to his desk.”

Here’s a roundup of more guests attending Tuesday’s State of the Union address, which begins at 9 p.m. Eastern: Read more

Biden in State of the Union speech to call for bipartisan action on fentanyl crisis

U.S. House speaker calls for ‘responsible’ debt limit legislation, shares few details

U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy answers questions from reporters at the U.S. Capitol about debt limit talks at the White House, on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. Photo by Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Monday said the greatest threat to the nation’s future is the rising national debt, though he gave few specifics for how he planned to lower deficit spending or avoid a first-ever default on the debt this year.

The California Republican, in a 10-minute address from the U.S. Capitol the day before the president’s State of the Union address, said the summer debt limit deadline “is one of the most important opportunities Congress has to change course.” He called on lawmakers to approve a “responsible debt limit increase that puts us on a path towards a healthier economy.”

McCarthy, however, was light on the details of how exactly the Republican-controlled House would get to that goal, or how that GOP legislation would move through the Democratic Senate.

McCarthy called on Congress and the White House to take a different approach to the debt limit during this year’s talks, saying there should be no drawing lines in the sand, no policy gimmicks and no political games.

He then outlined his three requirements for negotiations.

“First, we will continue to sit down and negotiate, just as President Biden did in the past. Second, we must commit to finding common ground on a responsible debt limit increase,” McCarthy said. “Third, we must move towards a balanced budget and insist on genuine accountability for every dollar we spend.”

McCarthy added that cuts to Social Security and Medicare, a default on the debt and higher taxes were all off the table for these negotiations. Read more

White House targets economic development in Central America to reduce migration