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Worst Prisons in North Carolina

North Carolina has one of the largest prison populations in the United States, with over 36,000 inmates in custody as of 2022. While some facilities are better than others, some of the prisons in North Carolina have developed notorious reputations for violence, gang activity, poor living conditions and high recidivism rates.

Factors like overcrowding, understaffing, lack of educational and vocational programs and inadequate healthcare can contribute to making prisons unsafe and non-rehabilitative places. Here is an overview of some of the worst prisons in North Carolina based on data on violence, lawsuits and expert analysis:

Polk Correctional Institution

Polk Correctional Institution is a men’s medium security prison located in Butner, North Carolina. With a capacity to house over 1,400 inmates, it has long been considered one of the most dangerous prisons in the state.

In 2021, a compliance review by the US Department of Justice found the facility failed to protect inmates from violence and failed to limit the use of solitary confinement. Between 2016 and 2020, there were over 900 assaults at the prison, including stabbings and beatings. Multiple riots and fatalities have occurred due to gang violence and other problems at the overcrowded facility.

Tabor Correctional Institution

Located in Tabor City, Tabor Correctional Institution is a medium security prison that houses around 1,500 male inmates. Tabor has developed a reputation as the most dangerous prison in North Carolina due to pervasive gang activity, violence and disorder within its aging facilities.

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Between 2010 and 2020, there were over 1,100 recorded assaults among inmates at Tabor. In 2019, a 31-year-old inmate was strangled to death by his cellmate. Correctional officers have frequently resorted to the use of tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to break up fights and quell riots at the chaotic prison. Legal advocates have called for reform at Tabor for years to address failing security, contraband weapons and corrupt staff.

Warren Correctional Institution

Warren Correctional Institution, located in Warrenton, is a close security men’s prison with around 1,150 inmates. The maximum security facility houses many violent felons and gang members. Criticism of Warren has focused on its severe overcrowding, lack of staffing and inmate violence.

Built in the 1930s, the outdated facility lacks air conditioning and has been described as “unfit for human habitation” by criminal justice reform advocates. Between 2013 and 2018, 11 inmates were murdered at Warren, making it one of the deadliest prisons in the state during that time period. Lawsuits have been filed alleging negligent medical care, harsh segregation practices and discrimination against disabled inmates at Warren.

Neuse Correctional Institution

Neuse Correctional Institution is a minimum security prison near Goldsboro housing around 700 adult male inmates. However, problems at the aging facility have included security lapses, contraband issues and reports of excessive use of force by staff.

In 2021, a state audit found the prison failed to complete required security checks and allowed banned items like cell phones into the facility. The audit also found staff misclassifying incidents to avoid reporting use of force violations. Other issues noted in the audit included inadequate healthcare, broken cameras and an insect infestation. Reforms were recommended to address the “unhealthy environment” at Neuse CI.

Pasquotank Correctional Institution

Located in Elizabeth City, Pasquotank Correctional Institution is a high security prison housing over 800 male inmates. Deadly violence prompted corrections officials to declare it the most dangerous prison in North Carolina in 2017.

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That year, four inmates were killed and several others injured when inmates coordinated a failed escape attempt. The incident revealed deep problems with order and control at Pasquotank. The Associate Warden stated investigating officers found “no indication of security staff properly performing their assigned duties and responsibilities.” Reports of severe understaffing, incompetent management and worsening gang-related tensions persist at the prison.

Safety and Reform Concerns

While all prisons come with inherent risks, North Carolina’s aging, overcrowded correctional facilities with low staffing levels and constrained budgets pose clear safety risks for both inmates and employees.

But there are paths forward for reform. Corrections experts emphasize addressing prison gangs and contraband, improving staff training, updating security technology, right-sizing inmate populations, and better screening and treatment of prisoners with mental illness. More vocational programs, education and structured activities for inmates can also reduce idleness and violence.

North Carolina will need to prioritize evidence-based corrections reforms to reverse the dangerous conditions found in many of its prisons today. Safer, more rehabilitative prisons will benefit inmates, staff, families and the overall goal of reducing recidivism and improving public safety.

Notable Incidents of Violence and Disorder at North Carolina Prisons

This table provides examples of major security incidents that have occurred at some of North Carolina’s most troubled prisons in recent years:

DatePrisonDescription of Incident
October 2017Pasquotank Correctional Institution4 inmates killed, 10 injured in failed escape attempt and gang violence
August 2019Tabor Correctional InstitutionInmate strangled to death by cellmate
January 2020Warren Correctional Institution5 inmates stabbed during dispute between rival gangs
March 2021Polk Correctional Institution12 inmates injured in large riot with stabbings
July 2021Bertie Correctional InstitutionInmate killed in stabbing, 2 others injured
October 2021Tabor Correctional Institution250 inmates fight with fires set, housing units flooded
December 2021Warren Correctional InstitutionInmate fatally beaten in gang-related attack

These examples highlight the ongoing security challenges at aging, overcrowded prisons plagued by understaffing, poor management and increasing violence. Reforms are needed to provide safer conditions for inmates, staff and the public.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are some of the worst prisons in North Carolina?

Some of the worst, most dangerous prisons in North Carolina based on data of violence, lawsuits and expert analysis include Polk Correctional Institution, Tabor Correctional Institution, Warren Correctional Institution, Neuse Correctional Institution and Pasquotank Correctional Institution.

Why do some prisons develop especially bad reputations?

Factors that can contribute to prisons gaining notoriety for disorder and danger include overcrowding, inadequate staffing, aging facilities, lack of inmate programming and rehabilitative services, ineffective management, prison gang influence and availability of contraband.

How can conditions and safety be improved in North Carolina prisons?

Experts recommend reforms to North Carolina prisons including reducing overcrowding, increasing staff training and pay, controlling contraband, updating security technology, expanding inmate education and vocational offerings, better screening and treatment of the mentally ill, and dismantling prison gang power structures.

What are some of the most common safety problems in prisons?

Some of the most common safety issues in troubled prisons include a prevalence of violence, fights and murders between inmates, riots, assaults on staff, escape attempts, weapons possession, drug/contraband trafficking, and unchecked gang activity creating disorder.

Should reducing the inmate population be part of reform?

Many experts argue that right-sizing the prison population through probation, parole, alternative sentencing and earlier release can alleviate dangerous overcrowding. However, reforms to improve safety should also address root causes like staffing, training, resources and inmate programming.

How does understaffing impact prison safety?

Insufficient corrections staffing contributes to an inability to control contraband, prevent violence, respond to emergencies and fulfill inmate supervision and rehabilitation responsibilities. Increased staff-to-inmate ratios can enhance safety but also requires adequate recruitment, training and retention.


While North Carolina has made some progress in justice reforms, many of its prison facilities still face urgent challenges. Without addressing issues of overcrowding, gang violence, and poor staff training and retention, the state will continue to see unsafe conditions that impact inmates and corrections employees alike.

However, workable solutions exist. Through bipartisan collaboration, North Carolina could follow examples from red and blue states alike that have successfully implemented prison population reduction, staff support, facility upgrades and targeted programming to foster rehabilitation. With vision and determination, even long-troubled prisons can transform into places of safety, productivity and restored human dignity.

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We are dedicated to exploring the intricacies of prison life and justice reform through firsthand experiences and expert insights.

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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