North Carolina Department of Correction

Western Youth Institution - 25 Years of Service

Correction Secretary Mack Jarvis
(Western Youth Institution superintendent, 1975-1977)

I’m 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 children’s 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 he’s 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.

Jarvis speaks at Western 25th anniversary

Dr. James White who we are happy to have with us today was named Western’s 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 prison’s nationally recognized Explorer’s Scouting Post was begun in 1973 with the help of Leon Morrow, Western’s current superintendent. And in 1974, Western became the state’s first prison with a community-funded chaplain. Bill Hall was Western’s 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 we’re building together today.

Just as inmates were required to earn their way from floor to floor of Western, today we’re 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 Explorer’s Post, DART’s alcohol and chemical dependency treatment and BRIDGE’s forestry program, we provide a wide range of opportunities for incarcerated men and women to turn their lives around.

In the last four years, we’ve made important changes in our correction system. We went to court, leased space and built prisons to keep violent offenders in prison longer. We’ve put an end to policies that eroded the public’s faith in corrections. Under the state’s 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 we’ve regained control of the system, we’ve 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 we’ve worked to improve the correction system, we’ve worked to make improvements in our communities. Smart Start gives children an important chance to be healthy and start school ready to learn. Gov. Hunt’s 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. That’s what Dr. White did when we first opened Western 25 years ago. That’s what Leon Morrow and his staff does today. And that’s what the young men and women who serve as correction professionals will do tomorrow.

I’m proud to have been a part of the team that opened this prison 25 years ago. I’m 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 they’ve touched. That is a tradition that will carry Western Youth Institution into the future.

Western Youth Institution

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