New budget forces some state agencies to make quick cuts

Posted June 29, 2011 6:16 p.m. EDT
Updated June 29, 2011 6:52 p.m. EDT

NC Department of Juvenile Justice sign

— The Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is scrambling to make the necessary cuts to meet the new state budget, which takes effect Friday.

The department is closing the Samarkand Youth Development Center in Moore County to help reduce spending. The 600-acre center opened in 1918 and housed as many as 200 youths, mostly 14- to 17-year-olds, charged with crimes.

The last of the youths moved out this week, transferred to the remaining six centers statewide, and the 49 employees at Samarkand packed up Wednesday faced being unemployed by the end of the week.

"It's sad, but life goes on, moves on," said Eva Dockery, a nurse at Samarkand for more than 30 years whose daughter was hired at the facility in February.

"It's been a long road – frustrating, stressful," said Mable Townsend, a social worker for 12 years at the center. "At Samarkand, it is a family. It's our family."

Secretary of Juvenile Justice Linda Hayes called the impact of the $15 million budget cut "a crisis." The department closed another youth development center in February to meet previous budget cuts.

"We'll have judges issuing orders we won't be able to comply with," Hayes said, noting the department has to reduce its workforce by 15 percent by Friday, including workers who handle court-ordered commitments and post-release supervision.

The cutbacks put the public at risk, she said. Because of the shortage of beds, many troubled adolescents will be forced to move through the system more quickly – youths stayed at Samarkand for a year, on average – and dozens are likely to be released into supervised community programs, she said.

"It is just absolutely devastating," she said.

The state Department of Correction is also bracing for cuts with the new budget.

The DOC plans to close minimum-security prisons in Durham, Charlotte, Cabarrus County and Haywood County by the end of the year. About 800 inmates will be transferred to other prisons, and workers might be offered jobs at nearby facilities.