08/19/05 — Federal Prison Camp will close in early 2006

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Federal Prison Camp will close in early 2006

By Renee Carey
Published in News on August 19, 2005 1:56 PM

The Federal Prison Camp at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base should close sometime in mid-February or March, officials announced Thursday.

"We don't have an exact closure date," Warden Gary Winkler told members of the Federal Prison Camp at Seymour Johnson Community Relations Board at the group's final meeting.

The clock has been ticking since February when the Bureau of Prisons announced it wanted to close the camp, along with other minimum security prisons in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Florida.

Since the initial confirmation from the Bureau of Prisons that the institution would close, Winkler said the inmate population has been gradually reduced.

"We are at 431 now," he said. "A bus came yesterday and took 40 inmates to West Virginia. Soon, we will have another bus go out."

After that, the prison population should be at about 391, Winkler said, enough inmates for the camp to continue its support work for the base as well as maintain the facility.

About 150 inmates are required to get the jobs done in both places, he said.

The prisoners will continue to do the maintenance work at the base, which includes mostly landscaping and other duties, as long as the population will allow, Winkler said. When the numbers get too low, base personnel will have to take over.

"We will stay at that number (391) as long as possible," he said.

Prison officials do not expect to really see numbers decreasing quickly until closer to the closure date, Winkler said.

"We don't anticipate that happening until December," he said.

The only other factor will be the number of staff on campus, he said.

Right now, the staff roster stands at 54, Winkler said, with seven or eight staff members already slated for other jobs and anticipating moves.

As long as there is enough staff to cover the inmates effectively and safely, there would be no hurry to reduce the population quickly. If one area of staff is depleted, for instance in the medical area, then the number of inmates served would have to be cut, too.

If the staffing remains stable, Winkler said about 90 days out, the last couple weeks of December, inmates would start moving out about 30-40 each week until the population is down to 150.

After that, as the closure date nears, the population will be reduced until it hits 50 -- a minimum needed to get some unfinished projects accomplished before closure, Winkler said.

The speed of the reduction of the inmate population will determine which community service projects that use inmate labor will continue, Special Assistant Larry Whitman said.

"As inmates are released and transferred, the number of inmates (participating in the community service work) will be decreased," he said.

That means some projects might see fewer workers or be eliminated completely from the prison work list as the closure date nears, he said.

Since the prison's primary job is to support Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and to maintain itself, those duties will take priority, Whitman said.

"We will prioritize based on mission support," he said.

Prison officials announced that there will be a celebration about 60 days before the closure date to allow former employees, current staff and the community to say goodbye to the institution, which has been operating in the county since the early 1990s.

Winkler said he will announce the official closure date when it is finalized.