North Carolina

Mistake takes N.C. inmate transport vehicle on a detour - to the wrong state

One of the barbed wire fences that surround the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women, in Raleigh.
One of the barbed wire fences that surround the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women, in Raleigh. News & Observer file photo

The prison officer’s assignment was simple: Take an inmate from Raleigh to a court hearing in western North Carolina.

But the March 12 journey wound up being anything but routine when an error by the officer sent a state vehicle on a detour.

To Georgia.

The trip began at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women, where an inmate who was facing drug charges was scheduled to be taken to a court hearing in Jackson County, North Carolina, southwest of Asheville.

But a prison officer plugged an incorrect address into a GPS device and mistakenly took the inmate to the wrong Jackson County, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety said. They wound up traveling to the Jackson County jail in Georgia, about an hour from Atlanta,

In a statement responding to the Observer’s questions, the spokesman, John Bull, called it a “regrettable, unfortunate mistake” but said that no inmates missed court hearings as a result.

State officials investigated and took “appropriate disciplinary action,” Bull wrote.

Prison officials refused to name the officer or the inmate, or to specify the nature of the disciplinary action. They also refused to say how many prison officers and inmates traveled in the state vehicle that day.

But according to a prison travel log, this much is clear: On March 12, the state vehicle also traveled to Surry County, North Carolina, near the Virginia state line, and to Macon County, N.C., in western North Carolina.

All told, the vehicle traveled 909 miles that day, the travel log shows. And it burned about 48 gallons of gas.

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Ames Alexander, an investigative reporter for the Observer, has examined corruption in state prisons, the mistreatment of injured poultry workers and many other subjects. His stories have won dozens of state and national awards. He was a key member of two reporting teams that were named Pulitzer finalists.
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