Local News

N.C. correctional officers investigated for sex with inmates

Posted October 29, 2010 4:34 p.m. EDT
Updated October 31, 2010 11:47 a.m. EDT

— Top officials within North Carolina’s prison system have admitted to ongoing investigations into what they are calling “undue familiarity” between prison employees and inmates.

“This is probably one of the most critical operational issues that we have been emphasizing since the early 1990s,” Jennie Lancaster, chief secretary for the Department of Correction, said Wednesday.

Preston Keeter, 44, a former correctional officer at Fountain Correctional Institution for Women in Rocky Mount, resigned last month after a DOC investigation into allegations that he had sex on Sept. 22 with an inmate he had supervised.

Edgecombe County sheriff’s investigators charged him on Sept. 27 with having a sexual encounter with an inmate. Two days later, he resigned from the post he held since July 2006.

WRAL News learned that Keeter also married in June 2009 a former inmate that he once supervised at Fountain Correctional. She was released from the prison in April 2007.

Neither he nor his wife would comment Wednesday.

There’s at least one other case under investigation at Fountain Correctional, a minimum-security prison with about 583 inmates.

“We have 20,000-plus employees (in the state prison system). We have 40,000 inmates,” Lancaster said. “This is unfortunate, but it is a national operational issue in our prisons. It's a consequence of the work environment.”

Lancaster said that, since she joined the DOC in 2009, officials have been strictly enforcing a zero-tolerance policy regarding such behavior. Part of that includes mandatory training for every employee.

Lancaster said Keeter's case should be fair warning to others that the issue will be taken seriously.

“Where we begin to see a professional boundary has been crossed – way before there has been any sexual contact – we initiate an investigation,” she said.