02/08/05 — Air base prison would close under proposal

View Archive

Air base prison would close under proposal

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on February 8, 2005 2:18 PM

The Federal Prison Camp at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base would be closed under a cost-cutting program developed by the federal Bureau of Prisons. The program would have to clear Congress before it would become effective.

The plan also includes the closure of three other federal minimum-security prisons, according to Traci Billingsley, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons in Washington.

She said it had nothing to do with BRAC, the process of selecting military installations for realignment or closure. It is strictly an effort to improve efficiency with the agency, she said.

Inmates in the camps at the four bases would be sent to "satellite camps" near higher-custody institutions and would help to maintain those prisons, she said. Prisoners like those at Seymour do not require close confinement, and they work in maintenance elsewhere on the base. They also do community work off the base.

Ms. Billingsley noted that the higher-security inmates are not allowed, for example, to mow grass around the prisons, but those in the satellite camps could do so.

The closure of the Federal Prison Camp at Seymour Johnson would cost the community 85 jobs. In addition, Wayne County would lose a source of volunteer work that helps agencies like Habitat for Humanity, schools, the Red Cross, the Wayne County Museum and the county and municipal governments.

Mrs. Billingsley said that if the reorganization is funded by Congress, the annual savings would be considerable. In addition to reducing the cost of hiring maintenance work done at the maximum-security prisons, there would be other efficiencies. For example, satellite camps near the other institutions can be run more economically.

She said the employees at Seymour Johnson would be giving the opportunity to work at other camps. One might be as near as Butner, which is about 20 miles north of Durham.

It is possible that North Carolina's congressional delegation could seek to block the closings. The 3rd District congressman, Republican Walter Jones, said today that no decision on that had been made. He said he was gathering information.

There are about 610 inmates in the Seymour Johnson prison, according to Warden Gary Winkler.

The three other prisons that would be closed are at Allenwood, Pa., and at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., and Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.