If closed, prison could be a jail
By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 14, 2013 1:50 AM
Gov. Pat McCrory's budget proposal to close five prisons, including Wayne Correctional Center west of Goldsboro near Cherry Hospital, could be the cost-saving answer to Wayne County's need for a new $51 million jail.
It could also mean that instead of shelling out $50 per inmate per day to house them in other counties because of jail overcrowding, the county could make money by renting space in its facility.
Because of that possibility, members of the Wayne County Facilities Committee Thursday morning agreed that the county needed to "sit tight" on what it has and hold off on any decisions regarding a new jail or alternatives to one.
"It is a perfect opportunity for us to work with the state to bring in this Cherry Hospital property, even to the point of having the state convey it to Wayne County," said Wayne County Facilities Committee Chairman and Commissioner Ray Mayo. "Right now my understanding is there is a real interest all the way to the governor's office in looking at this. We think that as a Facilities Committee it would be good to just hold tight on what we have got and see what happens.
"I will tell you that all three of our legislators from our districts are onboard with this. So I think it would save this county millions and millions of dollars in the future. It is something that we need to lay back and take a look at and wait and see what the state does."
The county is currently wrapping up a $2 million renovation project addressing a number of issues at the county jail, including a new roof. The work is expected to be completed at the end of May and come in "well under" budget, said County Manager Lee Smith.
"This alternative is really exciting Mr. Chairman," Smith said. "Looking at the governor's thoughts, there is some really good alternatives for us."
Action on the state property would likely come within the next 24 months, he said, and so in the meantime, the county needs to determine feasibility costs and upgrades for the facility.
Smith said that county Facilities Director Milford Smith had met with Sheriff's Maj. Fane Greenfield, who oversees jail operations, and that some commissioners have looked at the prison property on Stevens Mill Road. He also said there needs to be a meeting with the people operating the prison to talk about "real possibilities" as to how it could be used by the county.
Commissioner Steve Keen noted that the Wayne Correctional Center has 427 beds.
"We are at 200 (inmates), here but normally run over," he said. "We are doing a lot with the Day Reporting Center (electronic monitoring release). Here is a possibility that this facility with 427 beds could be a revenue source in looking at contiguous counties around us and being able to house their inmates.
"It is a minimum security prison. The sheriff is on board. Your recommendation is to hold tight and not expense anything and look over the next 90 days what is going to happen with the budget and see if it comes to fruition. If it does, then we can proceed in that direction."
Commissioner Wayne Aycock agreed.
"We are spending taxpayers money to send inmates out of the county," Aycock said. "This is a great possibility that we could bring inmates into the county. We hear every day, 'job creation, job creation.' The county may have to hire some more employees. What we can save in this facility, what we can hopefully save, we will be in a position that we can create some more jobs."
It could also save some that are at risk of being phased out, Smith said.
While there would be challenges to overcome, the facility would allow the county to gradually move into it, Smith said.
It also would allow the county to grow without taking up more farmland, Mayo said.
Options to build beds at the existing jail or at a satellite location range from $3 million to $31 million.