06/05/05 — Bureau still intends to close prison camp

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Bureau still intends to close prison camp

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on June 5, 2005 2:01 AM

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is proceeding with plans to close the federal prison camp at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, although the Seymour Support Council is still hoping for a reprieve.

The proposal to close the local camp and three other minimum-security prisons was recently endorsed by the Bush administration and included in the president's 2006 budget.

It's now up to Congress to decide if the camp will be closed. The budget, if approved by Congress, becomes effective in October.

"This is still pending in Congress," said Traci Billingsley, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, on Thursday. "There's no way we can forecast when Congress will respond."

The bureau's director, Harvey Lappin, visited the Seymour Johnson prison camp May 17 to brief its 84 employees on their options in case of closure. Lappin promised to give them priority in filling vacant positions at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex near Durham, which has three units now and is building a fourth.

The local employees would also have the chance to fill vacancies in prisons outside North Carolina. The bureau has made the same commitment to employees at the minimum-security prisons in Allenwood, Penn.; Elgin, Fla.; and Nellis, Nev.

However, the Seymour Support Council hopes to keep the local camp open.

"We are working very hard with our congressional delegation to oppose closure," Chairman Troy Pate said.

Should the camp close, the Air Force would have to spend $3 million a year for grounds maintenance and other work that is now being done by prisoners, Pate said.

The Bureau of Prisons might be cutting its own budget, but the overall effect on the federal budget would be negligible, Pate said.

"We wouldn't be saving any money for the taxpayers."

The council has provided information to U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr and U.S. Reps. G.K. Butterfield and Walter B. Jones in its efforts to save the prison.

Burr's spokesman Doug Heye said the senator opposes closing Seymour Johnson's prison, but could not say how actively Burr would fight to keep it open.

"We are still gathering information on their plans," Heye said Thursday. "Sen. Burr is weighing his options, but he hasn't made a decision."