Local News

Hundreds of inmates transferred amid prison closings

Posted September 29, 2009 5:18 p.m. EDT
Updated September 29, 2009 9:44 p.m. EDT

— The state Department of Correction is shifting about 950 inmates across North Carolina as it closes seven minimum-security prisons because of the state's tight budget.

Wilmington Residential Facility for Women closed this month, and Guilford Correctional Center, Gates Correctional Center and Union Correctional Center will close by Thursday. Umstead Correctional Center is slated to close by Nov. 1, with Cleveland Correctional Center closing by Dec. 1 and McCain Correctional Hospital closing by next April.

The moves will save an estimated $22.3 million and are part of the DOC's plans to eliminate 1,000 jobs as part of statewide budget cuts.

Smaller prisons are more expensive to operate per inmate, so the state will focus on expanding larger facilities, DOC spokesman Keith Acree said.

"It's an economy of scale issue. It's efficiency," he said.

Some prisoners will now have to share cells, but Acree said the state won't repeat conditions from the 1980s, when prisons were so crowded that inmates sued and won. Shortly after that, the state capped the number of inmates and started building more prisons.

Following the inmate suit, the DOC has tried to operate at no more than 130 percent of standard operating capacity – one inmate in each cell or 50 square feet per inmate in dorms. Prisons were at 119 percent of capacity before the latest round of closings.

"We are in a much better position now than the state was 15 to 20 years ago," Acree said.

James Lacewell, superintendent at Guilford Correctional, said the facility has tried to rehabilitate prisoners with the community's help.

"At one time, we had close to 100 churches involved," Lacewell said.

Programs at the prison have been so successful that some inmates tried to get transferred there with good behavior.

"It ain't just like we are just locked up and they don't care. They care about us here," inmate Corey Alston said.

"God changed my life, and (prison) staff helped along with it," inmate Brian Bass said.

Lacewell said seeing the prison close is difficult.

"I guess instead of looking at it as the end, we look at it as a new beginning," he said.