LUMBERTON — Prison inmates will still be working at jobs in Robeson County, including clearing roads of litter, even though the Robeson County Correctional Center closed late last summer.
The Robeson County Board of Commissioners approved a contract Monday with the N.C. Department of Public Safety that provides for inmates from the Scotland County Correctional Center to work in Robeson County. The contract is similar to one that the county has had with the state since 1998, said Steve Edge, the county’s director of Solid Waste.
“The only thing different from past contracts is the location (Scotland County) where the inmates are picked up,” he said. “In the past the inmates came from the Robeson County Correctional Center.”
Edge said that the contract calls for the county to pay $1 per day for each inmate. For the past nine years, Edge said, the annual contract between the county and state set the maximum number of inmates that could provide labor for the county at 23. Edge said another 18 inmates work in Lumberton under a different, but similar contract. Still others are assigned to the N.C. Department of Transportation to provide trash pickup along county roadways.
Edge said that the contract is important to the county because it provides an inexpensive work force. He said the inmates work for his department, Parks and Recreation, and Public Buildings, as well as at the Southeastern N.C. Agricultural Events Center and the Robeson County Fairgrounds.
“It would cost the county between $800,000 and $1 million in salaries and benefits if the county had to hire full-time employees to do these jobs,” Edge said. “This is an excellent program. It is beneficial to the county.”
According to Edge, as the county starts a more demanding litter pickup program, more inmates may be needed than can be provided under the existing contract.
“I’ve already discussed this with the assistant superintendent at the Scotland County center, and if more inmates are needed it will be considered,” Edge said.
The antiquated minimum security prison, located on a 102-acre tract on N.C. 711 just west of Lumberton, had the capacity to house up to 304 inmates. It officially closed its doors on Aug. 1 with the inmates being transferred to other facilities. Robeson was one of five prisons closed by the state as a cost-saving measure.
Robeson County state legislators fought to prevent the closing of the Robeson prison, arguing that it would hurt the county’s already weak economy. The loss of inmate labor that was basically free was also used as an argument to keep the facility open.