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Tyrrell prison reopens

The Tyrrell Prison Work Farm at Columbia is open again, after having been closed since shortly before last Christmas.

About 60 offenders are currently housed at the facility, and the liklihood of more to be added is good, said John Bull, a Department of Public Safety spokesman.

“The intention at this point is to gradually build up the offender population to around 160,” Bull said. “Staffing will be commensurate with offender population levels at the Tyrrell facility.”

Reason for the reopening now is gradually to reduce the populations elsewhere to free up more space in other facilities for offenders who require medical isolation or quarantine because of COVID-19.

No decision about the distant future of the work farm has been made, Bull said.

The prison’s closing last year resulted in a 30% reduction in Tyrrell County Utilities Department’s revenues. Defaulting on the county bond would have been  almost certain had not the state provided funds for the annual payments, county manager/attorney David Clegg stated.

He expressed the county’s gratitude for timely assistance from Gov. Roy Cooper, Sen. Bob Steinburg, Rep. Ed Goodwin, and state Treasurer Dale Folwell.

Rhett White, Columbia’s town manager, called the reopening “welcome news. We appreciate and encourage any and all efforts to use the facility to its fullest capacity.” He echoed Clegg’s appreciation for support from state leaders because “this facility is important to the local business community and to residents who need jobs.”

Folwell said state funds to aid the town and county in making their annual utility bond debt payments amount to $209,901 for Tyrrell County and $113,603 for Columbia.

“It is Tyrrell County’s hope, Clegg said, “that the state will populate the prison to full capacity, reassign and/or hire a full, local workforce, utilize the facility’s kitchen facilities and develop work farm enterprises on its 200 acres of crop land.”