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Central Prison Home To State's Only Hospital Behind Bars

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina taxpayers contribute $145 million a year to a health care system they do not qualify for. To be a part of it, one has to commit a felony.

The hospital inside Central Prison has never been state-of-the-art. Not when it was built in 1964 and certainly not now.

"It's not quite what you would expect as we think of an emergency room in a regular hospital," said Dr. Paula Smith, state

Department of Correction

medical director.

Is the only emergency room or hospital in any of the state's 77 correctional facilities.

"I've had heart trouble and I'm a diabetic. They just put me in a pacemaker here the other day," said Alvis Church, who is being held at the prison until his trial.

Church had the surgery at University of North Carolina Hospitals and is recuperating in Central Prison.

The prison system depends heavily on outside hospitals, private specialists and contractors who operate a mobile operating unit inside Central's gates.

"We do bring people in for day surgery type procedures. We don't open any body cavities, no chests are opened, no abdomen," Smith said.

Like with private systems, Smith says she has to deal with a nursing shortage, competition for doctors and rising costs. She cannot promise inmates the best care available -- just standard care.

"Inmate health care is constitutionally mandated," Smith said.

"You don't have the choices here that you have on the street. There's no HMOs and you can't go to this doctor or that doctor if you don't like the bedside manner that you're getting," said Felisha Wilson, an inmate at the North Carolina Correctional Center for Women.

The Correctional Center for Women has more clinical space and more medical staff than most facilities.

Most prisons only have a nurse on duty eight hours a day. All prisons offer regular clinics for preventive care and vaccinations.

Inmates who have the money pay $3 for sick visits, and $5 for emergency care.


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