Local News

N.C. Prison Closings Signal the End of an Era

Posted August 8, 1999

— The days of one prisoner to a cell and guards who know inmates by name are over. In order to cut costs, theDepartment of Correctionis closing six prisons.

Governor Huntasked the Department of Correction to cut $25 million from its budget. To do this, the state is closing older, smaller prisons. Prisoners are being moved to larger, state-of-the-art facilities which are thought to be more efficient.

But as the cell doors shut at these prisons for the last time, many say it is the end of an era.

They are leaving the same way they arrived -- in leg irons and handcuffs, not as free men. Prisoners were sent to theBlanch Correctional Facilityin Caswell County because they had behavior problems and needed closer supervision. Blanch is closing, and the state is moving them to other prisons.

Prison Superintendent J Haynes says it is not the peeling paint or the rusty, barbed wire which is causing the facility to close; it is money.

It costs more than $150 per inmate, per day to run the prison.

"I understand and I agree with the decision to close it because of the cost, but it's still hard to tell a person who has been here a long time you're going to have to go to work somewhere else," says Haynes.

The Department of Correction says newer, larger prisons achieve high security with fewer employees.

People who have worked at Blanch for as many as 30 years say these inmates are going to be hard to handle no matter where they live.

"It's been very difficult at times," says correctional officer Bernard Jeffries. "Some would come in, you feel like you could help, you would try to talk to them as much as you could, but there are some that you could not help."

Prison officials are trying to relocate employees within the prison system. The governor is asking the Department of Correction to cut $31 million next year, so there is a chance other prisons may have to close.

Other prisons closing its doors are in Goldsboro, Stokes, Stanly, Yadkin and Iredell counties.

Five prisons closed last year, and since Hunt has taken office, 15 prisons, mostly small, have closed.

Blanch was built originally as Ivy Bluff Prison in 1957 to house troubled prisoners and is the site of the state's most infamous prison break.

In 1959 Yank Stewart sawed through the bars with a hacksaw and escaped taking 20 inmates with him.

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