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Prisoners concerned about overcrowding

Inmates at Nash Correctional Institute say they are concerned about overcrowding as a result of state budget cuts.

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NASHVILLE, N.C. — Inmates at Nash Correctional Institute say they are concerned about overcrowding as a result of state budget cuts.

The state Department of Correction is in the process of closing seven of its 79 prisons and moving about 950 prisoners in an effort to save about $22 million.

Transfers began last month from the Wilmington Residential Facility for Women, the Guilford Correctional Center, Gates Correctional Center and Union Correctional Center.

About 326 prisoners are expected to be transferred to Nash Correctional Institution, which according to the DOC, houses approximately 640 adult inmates. The plan is temporary and prisoners aren't expected to be housed there more than two years, DOC spokesman Keith Acree said.

The DOC plans to house 60 prisoners in each of the prison's day rooms, which are lined with 60 cells along the room's walls. Four of the cells will remain open for inmates to use bathrooms.

"This is going to become an extremely explosive situation," said Michael Peterson, an inmate at the prison who says he is worried about overcrowding. "People will be fighting over chairs. They'll be fighting over going to the bathroom."

Peterson and others expect lawsuits, but Department of Correction spokesman Keith Acree said he feels the department is protected.

"We feel we are on firm legal ground with where we are," he said.

The state operates under conditions set forth in an expired court order stemming from a mid-1980s lawsuit that requires 50 square feet per inmate and 25 square feet per inmate in a day room.

"We adhere to those standards, even though we are not legally bound to adhere to them, because they've served us well over the year," Acree said."They've helped us avoid litigation. They've helped us avoid disturbances in prison. That's been a good thing for the prison system overall."

The day rooms at Nash, where they have put bunks, are more than 7,900 square feet. Under those standards, more inmates could actually be housed in the rooms.

"I think, to some extent, inmates at Nash have gotten a little spoiled, because they have had (for such a long time) these big, open dayrooms with very few people living in them," Acree said.

Inmates have also expressed concerns about safety and lack of jobs.

"I can't see putting that many people in that kind of situation without there being violence," said Deanne Reams, who runs a prison ministry and has heard concerns from other inmates. "The inmates have very little to do."

Acree said the DOC is bringing on 46 new employees at Nash, including 32 officers. It will also try to create more jobs. Some, such as kitchen and maintenance positions, will be created because of the additional inmates he said.

"Other than that, we are going to have too seek out other opportunities to keep inmates occupied," he said.

Inmates will also be moved in slowly – about 35 at a time.

"We want to make it a slow and gradual process and see how it goes," Acree said. "So, we have the ability to make adjustments as we go if we find things aren't working out."

Torry Reid, who transferred a month ago from Tabor City, said he has more space at Nash than at his last camp. He currently lives in the day room and expects it to be crowded. But he says he will adapt.

"I'm used to it already. I'm not anxious about it," Reid said. "I don't see no concern. Then again, I'm pretty much used to it."