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Saturday December 4th

NC Senate budget proposal would close Hillsborough prison

UNC fell 3-2 to Florida Atlantic on Sunday night.
Buy Photos UNC fell 3-2 to Florida Atlantic on Sunday night.

Orange County officials are concerned about a budget proposal that would shutter a Hillsborough prison.

The Orange Correctional Center is one of seven prisons the North Carolina Senate recommends closing in its 2013-14 budget. The proposed budget, released May 22, would close the facility on Oct. 1 and transfer inmates to other facilities.

State senators have said they want to close the facility in response to a decline in the state’s prison population. Closing the facility would trim about $2.7 million from the state budget this fiscal year and about $3.7 million next year, the proposal claims.

But some in Orange County government question whether the closing would do more harm than good.

“We think it would be an unfortunate choice motivated more by behind-the-scenes political maneuvering than any real necessity,” said Barry Jacobs, chairman of the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

The 220-bed, minimum-security prison employs 74 people from Orange, Durham, Caswell, Person, Guilford and Alamance counties, said prison superintendent Armstead Hodges.

He said despite the smaller prison population statewide, the Orange facility is nearly full, with 217 current inmates.

In 2009, the state completed a $6 million segregation facility on the Orange property to house inmates with behavioral and disciplinary problems.

Rep. Valerie Foushee (D-Orange) said she disagrees with closing the facility just four years after the expansion.

“It just doesn’t make sense to spend all that money and then say you’re going to close that facility,” Foushee said.

Since learning of the proposed closing in the Senate budget, Foushee and Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange) have been lobbying to keep the prison open.

Insko said she will focus on recommendations from Orange County officials in trying to get the proposal removed from the House’s version of the budget, which will be released this month.

“I will depend on advice from the county commissioners about how to proceed, because they’re the ones that know what the county needs,” Insko said.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget, released in March, recommended closing five prisons — one each in Wayne, Duplin, Robeson and Bladen counties, plus the Western Youth Institution in Morganton.

The Senate budget proposes closing the Orange and Buncombe prisons in addition to those facilities.

But Hodges argues the Orange facility currently houses enough inmates to necessitate staying open.

“We’re consistently very full, and this particular prison has a backlog of 80-100 inmates waiting to be housed at Orange,” Hodges said.

He said the reason for the large number of inmates requesting a transfer to Orange is the wide availability of programming for prisoners. A work-release program and classes on topics like food service technology, construction and carpentry give inmates the chance to learn a marketable skill prior to their release from prison.

And these programs may account for additional jobs at the facility. Jacobs said people from Hillsborough and UNC work in both the educational programs and ministry services at the center.

He said the county has focused on increasing these opportunities to help with rehabilitation efforts.

“We’re a fairly populous county in a fairly populous area, and there are a number of people who would otherwise be unable to make the connections they need to maintain their positive outlook when they get out,” Jacobs said.

He added while he disagrees with the direction of the legislature, he hopes local representatives will be able to keep the facility open.

“I don’t think anybody of a progressive bent can be optimistic about anything in this legislature, but I think we can be reassured that we have good champions in our corner,” he said.

Contact the desk editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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