06/10/09 — Corrections officials say keep morale up

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Corrections officials say keep morale up

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on June 10, 2009 1:46 PM

The state's chief operating officer of the Department of Correction visited Wayne County on Friday, pitching a message that seems to be echoing through every branch of state government -- keep morale up while the state makes large cuts in an effort to trim a $4.6 billion deficit.

Laura Price, the administrative officer at Wayne Correctional Center, used the opportunity to ask Jennie Lancaster, N.C. Corrections chief operating officer, questions about furloughs -- state-ordered unpaid time off.

And Ms. Lancaster said such questions were a big part of her reason for visiting local corrections officers at the Herman Park Center.

"I reminded them that this is a profession for most of us, and when you have the kinds of budget crisis facing this agency with reductions and cuts, it's time to act like the professionals that we are," Lancaster said.

Also speaking on Friday was Kenneth Lassiter, the state president of the N.C. Correctional Association.

Lassiter said he echoed Ms. Lancaster's message to keep morale high at local corrections facilities.

But Lassiter also said he believed that too many cuts to the prison system would mean a return to reduced quality of prison services.

"This is the time where the rubber's on the road," Lassiter said. "But we can't go back to the barbaric ways that we used to do business. We've got uphold the laws of this state."

Both Lassiter and Ms. Lancaster bemoaned a proposed dramatic cutback in a contract between the state Department of Correction and the Department of Transportation, which allows prisoners to work on roadways.

The crews can often be seen cleaning major highways, flanked by two guards carrying rifles.

"Right now, the recommendation in the House (of Representatives) is we would cut the contract by 20 percent," Ms. Lancaster said.

Added Lassiter, "It's good for citizens -- someone has to keep the roads clean, and that's going to be a debt that we're going to owe."

The Corrections COO said that if such a cut does happen, however, she and her office will have to deal with the effects with a positive attitude.

"This budget is a reality, the budget reductions are realities," Ms. Lancaster said. "But the crisis that the state of North Carolina is facing, that does not deter you as a correctional professional from focusing on your job."