03/08/04 — Unseen help: What the federal prison means to Wayne County

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Unseen help: What the federal prison means to Wayne County

Nestled away on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, where most folks seldom go, Goldsboro’s Federal Prison Camp is a hidden asset to Wayne County.

It’s what industrial developers would call a clean industry. It provides 88 good jobs. Its budget, largely spent here in the county, is $8.6 million a year.

It increases tourism. Each weekend, people come to Wayne to visit some of the 620 inmates. They spend money at our hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

What county wouldn’t go for an industry like that?

But there’s more.

The Federal Prison Camp at Seymour Johnson is a minimum-security prison, and all of its inmates are required to work. There is not enough work in the prison to keep them all busy, so they participate in work outside.

There are two kinds of outside work for them. One is called public work projects. In them, inmates help with construction and maintenance for federal agencies. Most of the prisoners work at Seymour Johnson, but some work at off-base agencies, particularly including National Guard armories.

The other kind of project is called community service. This work is for local government agencies or non-profit organizations.

In the last two years, a great benefactor has been Habitat for Humanity. Inmates can frame up houses at the prison, and the framing is broken down enough to be hauled to the homesite.

Some also actually go to building sites to work. They even help in the Habitat thrift store.

Several other community organizations have benefited from the prisoners’ availability. They have painted the interior of the Wayne County Museum, built partitions for the Red Cross blood drives, and so forth.

Few if any of the prisoners have been convicted of violent crimes. Three-fourths of them are serving time for drug-related convictions, and 10 percent are there for embezzlement. Nearly all of them are residents of North Carolina and South Carolina. Many were sent to Goldsboro because they are near the end of their sentences.

The prisoners like to be taken off the base to work, but only those who are considered to be “furlough eligible,” the most trusted ones, are picked. There are enough of them to contribute significantly to Wayne County agencies.

Most of us don’t often see the prison, but we see its effects in positive ways.

Published in Editorials on March 8, 2004 10:59 AM