NC prison commissioner lured back to run new Cabinet agency

September 22, 2022 GMT

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The head of North Carolina’s prison operations during the COVID-19 pandemic is Gov. Roy Cooper’s choice to become secretary of a new standalone Cabinet-level agency tasked with adult corrections.

Cooper announced on Thursday that Todd Ishee, who was named state prisons commissioner in 2019, will lead the Department of Adult Correction, an agency that becomes official on Jan. 1.

Ishee had been recruited in August to lead the American Correctional Association, but he was persuaded by the governor to “remain in North Carolina to start his new role” in a couple of weeks, according to Cooper’s office.

“He is a nationally sought after leader and I am grateful for his willingness to serve as secretary here in North Carolina and continue his critical work in our corrections system,” Cooper said in a news release. As a Cabinet secretary, Ishee will be subject to state Senate confirmation.

Ishee, with a 30-year career in corrections, came to North Carolina after serving within the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Office of Reentry and Enterprise Development.

Ishee’s term as manager of North Carolina’s 50-plus prisons was marked by difficulties filling correctional officer positions and by litigation and initiatives during the pandemic to remove prisoners at higher risk for COVID-19 complications and others to serve out their terms at home.

The state’s prison population is currently just over 29,900. Almost 60 prisoners have died of COVID-19 since 2020, according to state prison data.

Ishee had been working within the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, which sits within the Department of Public Safety. The 2021 state budget directed that adult correction services be separated effective at the start of 2023. The change will mean the transfer of over 20,000 state positions to the new department. A new Division of Juvenile Justice will remain within the Department of Public Safety.