02/10/05 — Jones to take closer look at prison closing proposal

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Jones to take closer look at prison closing proposal

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on February 10, 2005 2:25 PM

Third District Congressman Walter B. Jones Jr. says he is looking carefully at the government's proposal to close the Federal Prison Camp at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

The closing is recommended by the Federal Bureau of Prisons as a cost-cutting measure, and would have to be approved by Congress.

Jones said Wednesday that he had spoken with prison officials at Seymour Johnson in order to get some background information on the proposal.

"As I understand it, the reason stems from a tight budget need for the country and for the prison system," Jones said.

Jones said that Seymour Johnson's prison costs $9 million annually to operate, and is in need of improvements that would cost an estimated $1.7 million.

It would cost around $3 million to close the prison, but that would still provide a $6 million savings for the first year.

"Right now this is just a recommendation to the appropriations committee," Jones said. "And it is simply a cost-savings effort by the Bureau of Prisons."

The plan also includes the closure of three other federal minimum-security prisons -- at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and a prison camp at Allenwood, Pa.

Traci Billingsley, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons in Washington, said the proposal to close the prisons has nothing to do with the Base Realignment and Closure commission, or BRAC, the process of selecting military installations for realignment or closure.

Inmates in the camps at the four bases would be sent to other prison camps located near higher-security institutions and would help to maintain those prisons, she said. The Seymour Johnson prison is a minimum-security facility and its prisoners work in maintenance elsewhere on the base. They also perform community work off the base.

The closure of the Seymour Johnson prison would mean the loss of 85 jobs. Wayne County also 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.

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

Jones said he was very concerned with the nation's deficit, saying the administration had to get "serious about debt."

"We can not continue to spend," Jones said.

He said he would watch the proposal's progression through committee, and talk with the chairman.

"I'll continue to look at this proposal carefully," Jones said.