Prison closures force Beaufort County inmate transfer

Published 8:10 pm Thursday, August 8, 2013

The coming closure of five North Carolina Department of Adult Corrections prisons has forced some Beaufort County inmates to another facility, according to a press release from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.

Tuesday, 27 male inmates from Beaufort County were transported from Bertie Correctional Institute to the Pamlico County Detention Center, joining 21 male inmates already incarcerated in the Pamlico County facility. The transfer was necessary in order to “free up inmate space,” the release said.

“With the new budget that was passed, they’re closing down five prisons,” said Beaufort County Sheriff Alan Jordan. “They really needed the bed space that we were occupying in order to close down those units,”

Under normal conditions, Beaufort County inmates are housed in the Beaufort County Detention Facility, beneath the county Courthouse in Washington. However, a court order by Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr. required the jail remain vacant until its electrical problems are repaired. Since early June, Beaufort County inmates have been shuffled to several facilities in neighboring counties. With Tuesday’s move, 48 male inmates are now at Pamlico County Detention Center, while 18 male inmates and seven female inmates are being housed in the Lenoir County Detention Center,

The NCDOC prisons slated to be closed are Wayne Correctional Facility, Bladen Correctional Facility, Duplin Correctional Facility, Robeson Correctional Facility and Western Youth Institution, which represents a loss of 685 jobs. With the exception of Western Youth Institution, the prisons are all located in eastern North Carolina.

According to Kim Genardo, the communications director for Gov. Pat McCrory’s office, the closures are due to “declining prison populations and a need to close old and costly prisons.”

However, Jordan believes the prison closures may be part of a larger trend started with last year’s Misdemeanant Confinement Program. The program reallocates the responsibility for housing the bulk of inmates convicted of misdemeanors from DOC back to county jails.

“Look at it in terms of current and future trends,” Jordan said. “The push is to house inmates more and more at a local level. In terms of our jail’s needs for the future, our responsibility is going to be to house a larger and larger number of inmates.”

Right now, Jordan said the number of inmates for which Beaufort County is responsible is very low — 63 inmates spread over two jails — whereas the number of inmates housed in an operating Beaufort County jail regularly fluctuates from the mid-90s to 120.

“It is low, but the reality of it is we’re having people that would normally be incarcerated being released on their own recognizance,” Jordan explained. “From a practical standpoint, it is much more difficult to incarcerate someone when you’re not operating your own facility. We’re trying to keep our population as low as possible because the higher the population, the greater cost it is to the county.”

Jordan said the local magistrates, who set bond amounts, know the situation and are modifying requirements to spare expense and trouble — to the county coffers, the detention officers responsible for ferrying inmates back and forth from court to other counties and to inmates, some of whom, under normal circumstances, may have been bonded out of the Beaufort County jail in a few hours, but could now find themselves incarcerated in another county.

Jordan said, in addition to inmate housing being offered, and accepted, by Pitt, Pamlico and Lenoir county sheriffs, both Craven and Onslow county sheriffs have also indicated they would take on Beaufort County inmates.

“I’m just thankful to the sheriffs in neighboring counties,” Jordan said.