LUMBERTON — State Rep. Charles Graham says that Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget recommendation to close the state’s minimum security prison in Lumberton is both “good and bad.”
“We hate to see people lose jobs,” Graham said. “But it is encouraging that there is no need to build more prisons statewide because we are incarcerating fewer people.”
Graham, who is a member of the House Justice and Public Safety Appropriations Committee, said this week that he learned during a recent committee meeting that the 80 employees at the aging Robeson County Correctional Center on N.C. 711 will be offered employment at other units within the state’s correctional system. He said, however, that he is not sure which units will be available to pick up the Robeson County staff.
“There is a strong commitment for employees to have employment opportunities at other units,” Graham said. “Hopefully, those units will be close to home.”
Graham said there also will be a severance package available for those employees who choose retirement as an option to taking a job at another prison. The details of the severance package must be worked out.
Robeson County Correctional Center is among five prisons that are recommended for closing in the $20.6 billion budget McCrory, a Republican, presented to the GOP controlled General Assembly earlier this month. The prisons he wishes to close require expensive renovation and repair.
In addition to the prison in Robeson, others recommended for closing include minimum security facilities in Bladen and Duplin counties; a medium security facility in Wayne County; and a mixed-use facility, the Western Youth Institution, in Morganton. In all, the closings would eliminate 1,912 beds.
Graham said that if legislators approve the governor’s recommendation, Robeson County’s 276-bed facility would close Aug. 1.
According to Graham, the closing would save the state $3.955 million during the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Graham said that he believes the governor’s proposal for closing the prisons will be supported by a majority of the members of the General Assembly.
“The governor has a lot of support in the House and Senate for the closings,” said Graham, a Democrat whose district includes the Robeson County Correctional Center.
Both Graham and Greg Cummings, Robeson County’s industrial developer, said that the closing of the Robeson prison would take away from county municipalities, Department of Transportation, and several private businesses services that use inmate labor. Just more than 100 inmates currently perform certain jobs for municipalities, such as trash pickup and road maintenance.
“There are four or five industries that I know of that also use the services of inmates,” Cummings said. “They use the inmates while they are part of the prison work program and then some are hired permanently after they are released.”