The state Senate has passed a budget that includes closing seven prisons, including two minimum-security prisons: the Buncombe Correctional Center in Woodfin and the Orange Correctional Center in Hillsborough.
These facilities, along with a cadre of volunteers, provide invaluable pre-release services and programs for inmates that increase their employability and reduce recidivism. Simply put, these services translate to lower taxes for North Carolina residents.
The House has approved a budget that keeps these two facilities open, but a Senate-House conference now must approve a budget and present it to Gov. Pat McCrory to sign. We need to tell our N.C. General Assembly members to keep these facilities open.
The Buncombe Correctional Center and the Orange Correctional Center are both minimum-security prisons that house adult males within five years of their release dates or parole eligibility. As such, these facilities are the ideal setting to better prepare inmates for successful entry into the work force and for reintegration into the community after release.
The BCC, along with the Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, provides adult educational classes and GED preparation for inmates. The OCC, in conjunction with Piedmont Community College, provides vocational classes in food service technology and carpentry. Other programs offered at these facilities include much-needed services such as literacy tutoring, computer training, substance abuse treatment, cognitive therapy, parenting classes and even study release at UNC-Chapel Hill.
The many community volunteers who staff these services work free, providing a much-needed resource at no cost to taxpayers. According to Hank Elkins, a sociologist who has served as chairman of the OCC Pre-Release Subcommittee, these closures would cause inmates to be diverted to facilities in more rural areas where volunteers and other pre-release services are not available.
This is especially worrisome because a study published by the N.C. Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission shows that work-release programs reduce the probability of recidivism and increase the probability of employment after release. A study by the Correctional Education Association showed that correctional education also lowered long-term recidivism by 29 percent.
Fewer pre-release programs and services mean lower employability rates and higher recidivism for newly released inmates, all of which translate to higher taxes. Helping inmates succeed means more people in the community working, paying taxes and relying less on government support.
In addition to inmates’ receiving in-house training and working in maintenance, kitchen, yard, laundry and library areas, they also work for Department of Transportation road crews and litter crews and in local government agency contracts.
If these facilities close, many places will lose the benefit of inmate work. According to Elkins, six OCC inmates work full-time for the Utilities Department of the Town of Hillsborough for only $1 a day. If the OCC closes, how will the town pay for six full-time staff workers to replace OCC workers? According to Town Manager Eric Peterson, this would cost the town approximately $286,000 per year. As Elkins says, “For all these reasons, taxpayers should be concerned.”
N.C. taxpayers should do all we can to keep facilities such as the BCC and OCC open.
Betty Rupp of Chapel Hill is affiliated with the N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition.