North Carolina Department of Correction
Western Youth Institution - 25 Years of Service
Correction Secretary Mack
(Western Youth Institution superintendent, 1975-1977)
|Im glad to be here today to take
part in this event that Leon Morrow, Helen Harriger and
Bill Hall have organized for us. There are important
milestones in our lives. Graduations, weddings,
anniversaries and our childrens birthdays always
give us a chance to look at the passage of time. For
those of us who have looked at Western Youth Institution
as our home away from home, this anniversary is an
important marker for our careers.
The tall thin building that stands above the valley is clearly different from the prisons many of us began our careers in. I started in 1959 at the Caldwell unit in Hudson and arrived here to help open Western in 1970.
As Bill Hartley describes in the history of the prison hes recently written, three high rise prisons were to be built near Asheville, Burgaw and Salisbury when Lee Bounds first proposed the concept in 1967. The General Assembly funded construction of one of these prisons and the decision was made to put it in Burke County.
Dr. James White who we are happy to have with us today was named Westerns first superintendent. Our planning team included George Greene, Tom Corley, Bob Smith, Billy Cox and myself. We opened the prison in 1972.
To go along with the unique building, we developed unique programming. Under the gradient system, newly admitted inmates began imprisonment at Western on the 14th floor. As they served time and followed rules, they moved to lower floors with less restrictive environments. We also developed a six-week training program to prepare and professionalize custody staff. Early on, Western developed an important relationship with Western Piedmont Community College. This prison was the first in the state permitted to give GED tests.
The prisons nationally recognized Explorers Scouting Post was begun in 1973 with the help of Leon Morrow, Westerns current superintendent. And in 1974, Western became the states first prison with a community-funded chaplain. Bill Hall was Westerns first chaplain and has served here ever since.
After helping get Western up and running, I was proud to be named superintendent in the mid-70s. My years at Western were important to me. The lessons learned and the people I worked with shaped my view of corrections and helped me seek to shape the correction system were building together today.
Just as inmates were required to earn their way from floor to floor of Western, today were holding inmates across the state accountable. Our expectation is they will work and seek to improve themselves.
Just as Western provides access to education, concerned chaplains, an Explorers Post, DARTs alcohol and chemical dependency treatment and BRIDGEs forestry program, we provide a wide range of opportunities for incarcerated men and women to turn their lives around.
In the last four years, weve made important changes in our correction system. We went to court, leased space and built prisons to keep violent offenders in prison longer. Weve put an end to policies that eroded the publics faith in corrections. Under the states new criminal sentencing law, parole is eliminated and truth-in-sentencing means offenders serve the time the judge announces in the courtroom.
Our ability to create new prison capacity allowed paroles to be reduced from 24,000 in 1994 to 12,000 last year. While weve regained control of the system, weve also been able to creatively respond to new challenges.
More than 1,000 prisoners go to work for public agencies each day helping to improve communities. The community work program has provided cities and towns across the state with free labor, while providing offenders a chance to give back to their communities.
As weve worked to improve the correction system, weve worked to make improvements in our communities. Smart Start gives children an important chance to be healthy and start school ready to learn. Gov. Hunts school volunteer program, S-O-S, calls on all of us to give time to help middle school children after school.
The call Gov. Hunt has launched to reach out to our children is now being sounded across the country. If we want to live in a better world, then we must reach out to those around us. Improving our schools and giving a hand to at-risk youth will make our communities better and our lives richer.
When I drove to work 25 years ago, Western stood alone among these hills. As you round the curve today, you also see Foothills Correctional Institution and the western boot camp. These facilities now hold more than 1600 young men.
Our job is to reach each one of them and provide them a chance to change their lives. Thats what Dr. White did when we first opened Western 25 years ago. Thats what Leon Morrow and his staff does today. And thats what the young men and women who serve as correction professionals will do tomorrow.
Im proud to have been a part of the team that opened this prison 25 years ago. Im glad to have the chance to stand here today and thank you for all your hard work. The men and women who have devoted their careers to working in this prison have given so much of their lives to making our state a better place. Think of the thousands of lives theyve touched. That is a tradition that will carry Western Youth Institution into the future.
Western Youth Institution
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