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

Cooper announced Thursday that Todd Ishy, who was appointed the state’s prison commissioner in 2019, will lead the Department of Adult Corrections, an agency that will become official on Jan. 1.

Ishii was recruited in August to lead the American Correctional Association, but the governor persuaded him to “remain in North Carolina to begin his new role” after a couple of weeks, according to Cooper’s office.

“He is a leader in demand across the country, and I am grateful for his willingness to serve as secretary here in North Carolina and continue his important work in our correctional system,” Cooper said in a news release. As Cabinet Secretary, Ishii will be subject to approval by the Senate.

Ishii, who has a 30-year career in corrections, came to North Carolina after serving with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections in reentry and enterprise development.

Isha’s tenure as head of North Carolina’s 50-plus prisons has been marked by difficulties filling corrections staff positions and lawsuits and initiatives during the pandemic to remove inmates at higher risk of complications from COVID-19 and serve others at home.

The state’s prison population is now just over 29,900. According to the data, since 2020, almost 60 prisoners have died from COVID-19 state prison data.

Ishii worked in the Division of Adult Corrections and Juvenile Justice, which is part of the Department of Public Safety. The 2021 state budget calls for the separation of adult correctional services in early 2023. The change will mean the transfer of more than 20,000 government jobs to the new department. The new Division of Juvenile Justice will remain within the Department of Public Safety.

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