LUMBERTON — State Rep. Charles Graham says that that Robeson County’s representatives in the House “pushed strongly” until the end to have money put in the House budget proposal that would keep open the Robeson County Correctional Center.
“We advocated strongly to generate enough interest among legislators to keep the prison open because of the great financial asset it is to Robeson County and the municipalities that use inmate work crews to perform various jobs,” said Graham, a Democrat from Lumberton. “We strongly advocated the prison as an economic engine that would save our taxpayers money.
“I’m very disappointed to say the least. I ran a proposed amendment to restore the funding through the Appropriations Committee’s Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee and it was defeated. (Rep.) Garland Pierce proposed an amendment on the House floor to restore the funding and it also was defeated overwhelmingly.”
The Lumberton prison, which is minimum security, has been targeted because of a shrinking inmate population statewide. The facility has 276 beds and employs 80 people. Graham has said that the employees will be offered employment at other units within the state’s correctional system.
Local government officials are concerned about the loss of $1-a-day inmate labor to such tasks as cleaning roadsides.
Graham said that he was thankful House members supported funding for a pilot program aimed at reducing the number of prisoners who end up back in prison after they are released. This program, he said, will appropriate funds for contractual services in Robeson and Lenoir counties that provide individuals on probation and under post-release supervision with educational, vocational and rehabilitative programs; transitional housing; job-placement services; substance abuse treatment; and mental health services.
“This program will mean $750,000 for Robeson County, $375,000 for each of two years,” Graham said. “Hopefully these services will reduce the number of inmates who return to prison following their release.”
Graham described a House decision to fund the Bladen County Correctional Center, which like the Robeson County facility was targeted by Gov. Pat McCrory and the state Senate for closure, as “politics.”
Graham also criticized House members for not fully restoring money needed to operate the Southeastern Agricultural Events Center. He said that the House had cut all funding for the center out of its budget proposal until he and Pierce were able to get $250,000 restored. That is $112,000 less than in the proposed Senate budget, he said.
“We fought hard to get this in the budget,” Graham said. “The center is showing a good revenue stream and having success. We’re getting a good return for our buck.
“We are talking jobs and economic opportunities here,” Graham said. “This is important to our citizens and our tax base.”
Graham said that a strong point of the proposed House budget is that it is restoring funding for the N.C. Rural Center. Funding for the center had been cut in both the governor’s proposed budget and the budget proposed by the Senate.
“The Rural Center does a lot to help rural North Carolina with infrastructure and other projects that promote economic development,” Graham said. “There are a lot of representatives in the House from rural counties and they know how important the center is to rural areas.”
The proposed House budget through mid-2015 received final approval Thursday. House Republicans contend the budget advances reform and responsibility. Democrats say that it recklessly harms people.
The overall House budget spends almost exactly the same amount as the Senate proposal, $20.6 billion. The Senate proposal passed late last month.
The two chambers differ in many ways on how to spend state funds. Negotiations should begin next week, with the goal of reaching a compromise by the end of the month that can be sent to McCrory. The governor will also participate in final budget negotiations.