Dangerous criminals in Raleigh's Central Prison face armed guards, iron bars and barbed wire. But equally dangerous criminals in the state's mental health facilities do not see nearly the same amount of security on a daily basis.
State mental health officials say they run hospitals, not prisons. Therefore, certain patients, or clients as they call them, pose a difficult problem. Wendell Williamson, found not guilty by reason of insanity for killing two people in Chapel Hill, is one of those tough cases.
Just after 3 p.m. Tuesday, Wendell Williamson arrived at the Forensic unit at Dorothea Dix Hospital. Williamson was moved from Broughton Hospital to the more secure facility because a judge says he is still a danger to society.
"I smelled alcohol on his breath," said a Broughton doctor who testified before the court about a recent incident, where Williamson was found drunk after someone slipped him a pint of vodka.
Judge Ron Stephens was shocked when the staff said they had no policy concerning searching visitors. Governor Hunt says the lack of security also concerns him.
"Yes, it does concern me. If people are going in and out of mental institutions, certainly patients, they ought to be searched," Hunt said. "They could have weapons or drugs or whatever, and we ought to have a way of checking them. We ought to make sure people aren't bringing things in that should not be there. If that's not happening, we've got to change it."
Most patients in the state mental health system do not fall into Williamson's category. However, the state says it is taking action in the wake of the Williamson drinking incident.
"It's a public facility, and we realize that we have a certain thing we owe the taxpayers to ensure those facilities are well run and people are being handled properly," said Debbie Crane with N.C. Health and Human Services. "From a treatment perspective that's not good to have alcohol in there as well, so we have taken steps to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Staffers at Broughton are being reminded they do have the right to search people if it's deemed necessary. In the big picture, Dix is the only state facility that has a high security, forensic unit. They have 36 spaces. A larger facility, with 72 spaces is under construction.
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