- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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June 3

The Charlotte Observer on North Carolina’s prison system:

When North Carolina prison officers weren’t gratuitously beating inmates or putting hot sauce on their testicles, they were selling them drugs, letting them carry out gang attacks or colluding with them on other crimes. And when they weren’t doing any of that, they were having sex with them on the superintendent’s desk.

Those were among the findings and credible allegations uncovered by a team of Observer investigative reporters who spent more than two years digging into corruption in the North Carolina prison system. The breadth and severity of misdeeds - by inmates, by prison officers and by supervisors - were breathtaking, and demand a dramatic response.

They were fueled partly by poor policy decisions made in the legislative and executive branches by both parties over many years. And so it falls on today’s legislative and executive branch leaders to ensure this violent, dangerous and expensive scourge is addressed. Gov. Roy Cooper, Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore all claim to treasure good government and a tough but fair justice system. Now’s their chance to prove it.

The Observer’s findings constitute one of the most consequential and systemic failures in North Carolina government in many years. This was - or is? - not one or two rogue employees; it was a culture deeply ingrained at prisons throughout the state.

Some lowlights from the series by Ames Alexander, Gavin Off and Elizabeth Leland:

More than 400 employees have been fired for misconduct in prisons since 2012.

Seven inmates at Central Prison won settlements after alleging that officers repeatedly committed “malicious and sadistic assaults” on them while handcuffed in hallways that weren’t monitored by surveillance cameras.

More than two dozen officers have been fired since 2012 for inappropriate use of force and many more are never fired for similar actions, lawyers say.

A video from inside Lanesboro Correctional Institution raises questions about whether prison officials knew about a planned attack on an inmate and allowed it to happen. One inmate died in the stabbing.

Employees routinely smuggle in drugs, cellphones and other contraband. One prisoner in solitary confinement used one of those phones to orchestrate a murder plot against a prosecutor’s father.

More than 65 staff members have been fired for getting too close to inmates, including many who carried on sexual affairs with prisoners. One worker had sex with an inmate, then helped him escape, authorities say.

This is a disgrace - and a danger not just to inmates and prison officials, but the public. The Observer series details some potential solutions, and policymakers should implement those right away. They include better background checks when hiring prison staff and better training and pay once they’re hired. Frisking officers for contraband and randomly drug testing officers would also help.

Besides those measures, the prison system needs strong leadership - from Cooper to Hooks to executives on down the chain - who will set high standards and accept nothing less.

Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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June 2

StarNews of Wilmington on gators on North Carolina’s hunting list:

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is considering allowing alligator hunting in Southeastern North Carolina for the first time since 1973.

We don’t know why.

In 2015-16, the commission rejected a proposal to allow hunters to bag one alligator apiece during September. The commission could revisit the idea and create a gator-hunting season in its 2017-18 rulemaking process.

In an interview in Monday’s StarNews, Allen Boynton, the commission’s wildlife diversity program coordinator, didn’t say why the state would change its policy to allow hunting from Brunswick to Carteret counties. But some of what he told us indicates it might not be a good idea.

It’s hard to establish a hunting season for the ancient reptiles, Adam Wagner’s story said, “because of the scarceness of alligators throughout much of the state and how long they take to produce offspring.”

“If we were to allow hunting like we do with some other species,” Boynton told the StarNews, “our margin of error is not as great because of the very slow reproduction.”

The Wildlife Resources Commission asked the public in April to upload photos of alligators in the state to iNaturalist.org. There’s even a smartphone app for that.

The commission launched the “NC Alligators” project to learn more about the distribution of alligators, saying it wanted to understand how alligators respond to habitat changes such as saltwater intrusion and the like, and to reduce “negative interactions between people and alligators.”

Boynton said the commission wants to hear what residents say about the alligator populations in their areas and how quickly they reproduce.

Alligators can move incredibly fast when provoked or hunting. But mostly they seem to spend their days imitating logs.

We’re not sure how much “thrill of the hunt” there is in sneaking up on a gator dozing in the shallows and shooting it.

We’re not opposed to hunting in general, and we are aware that hunters are among the state’s most ardent conservationists. But we like our alligators, too.

We are sympathetic to pet owners and adventurous golfers to whom alligators may pose a threat. But gator attacks don’t exactly dominate the news.

Unless the commission can lay out solid reasons to allow alligator hunting, we’d shy away from the proposal.

Online: https://www.starnewsonline.com/

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June 2

News & Record of Greensboro on a church harboring a woman without legal status:

The congregation and staff of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church should be commended for their incredible generosity in providing sanctuary for a woman in need. They opened their doors to Juana Luz Tobar Ortega, a 24-year resident of the United States who was ordered to leave the country by Thursday.

This is not legal sanctuary. The law doesn’t give churches the right to shelter people whom the government wants to arrest or deport. The Christians of St. Barnabas must rely on higher authority.

This shouldn’t be happening. While Ortega, 45, never had legal status in this country, she has not done anything to deserve a special enforcement action. She’s married to a citizen. She worked in a High Point textile mill. She raised a family and has children and grandchildren. She hasn’t committed any crimes.

The Trump administration has stepped up detentions and deportations, but President Donald Trump himself said enforcement would be aimed at “bad hombres” such as drug dealers and violent criminals.

That strategy would make sense. Even with increased resources put into the Department of Homeland Security and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement division, federal agents must concentrate on the worst cases and can’t afford to waste time and money corralling harmless grandmothers. Yet, according to more and more reports, they are sweeping up the good with the bad.

“If you’re ordered removed from the United States, this agency is going to carry that out,” ICE spokesman Bryan D. Cox told the News & Record’s Nancy McLaughlin. “It should come as no surprise to any of those individuals.”

Then it should come as no surprise to ICE and the Trump administration that many Americans will oppose such draconian action - and that some will do so out of religious conviction.

The fine folks at St. Barnabas should understand that they are engaged in civil disobedience. It’s against the law to harbor people who are wanted by local, state or federal authorities. They could be in legal jeopardy. ICE agents could obtain a warrant to enter and take Ortega into custody. If that happens, members should witness, not resist - and take photos and videos. The images would make a powerful statement about the injustice of the action itself and also the violation of a sacred space in such a heartless cause.

Federal authorities understand the optics. Department of Homeland Security policy recognizes “sensitive locations,” including medical facilities, schools and places of worship. It allows enforcement actions in sensitive locations “in limited circumstances” but says they “will generally be avoided” and require high-level approval.

If ICE agents enter St. Barnabas, we could assume the high-level approval came from the White House itself. It would be that big a story.

But, if ICE can’t go in, Ortega can’t go out except at great risk. She’s trapped - in a friendly home tended by caring Christians - yet still in confinement and maybe for a long time.

A resolution should be simple. The government should reverse its decision. Ortega should be allowed to return to her home in Randolph County and go back to her job. She should be able to live freely with her family. Agents should focus their efforts on apprehending dangerous illegal immigrants so that their work actually makes us safer.

“We strive to nourish the Kingdom in our midst, and to spread it out into the world,” St. Barnabas says on its website. “So we make every attempt to be a church of hospitality and inclusion.”

This church has put faith, hope and charity into action.

Online: https://www.news-record.com/

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