North Carolina Department of Correction
Western Youth Institution - 25 Years of Service
A History of Western Correctional Center
by Bill Hartley
Piedmont Community College
Early challenges and new superintendents|The Explorer Post
A new superintendent refines programming|B.R.I.D.G.E. and the Young Life Center
A new prison....
According to an early article in the local Morganton news herald, "There has never been such a unit created within North Carolina's prison system. As its 16 stories cause it to differ structurally from the traditional one-story 'road camps' or local prisons, just so it differs in concept from the penology of a generation ago. The Western Correctional Center embodies the latest thinking in inmate care as arrived at by North Carolina's Director V. Lee Bounds and other leaders in the field."
The "High-Rise" concept was originated by State Commissioner of Corrections Lee Bounds in 1967. The original plan called for three high-rise prisons: one in the Buncombe County area, one in the Rowan County area; and one in Pender County. The plan was expanded in 1969 to include six high-rise prisons regionally located across the state. Each high-rise prison would serve as a hub diagnostic and classification center for that region. However, the legislature perceived the high-rise concept as untried and therefore, elected to fund only one and see how it progressed before investing further in this unique penal concept. Commissioner Bounds decided to place the first of the high-rise prisons in Burke County due to the accessibility of state resources and availability of state-owned land.
In July 1970, Bounds appointed Dr. James C. White, Jr. a clinical psychologist and Western Area Administrator, the additional responsibility of superintendent of the soon-to-be completed Western Correctional Center. This institution was designated by Bounds as a laboratory site for the demonstration of innovative correctional programs.
Dr. White and a small planning staff, at various times including Capt. George Greene, Business Manager Tom Corley, Program Assistant II Bob Smith, Education Director Sara Whitley, Capt. Mack Jarvis and administrative assistant Billy Cox began work in temporary offices at Broughton Hospital at Morganton where they worked until near completion of the facility in early January 1972.
Although the high-rise concept itself was innovative, Dr. White developed and implemented a unique inmate management and habilitation program identified as the Contingency Management Program. It was a very thorough behavior modification program using both a behavior rating system and privilege system. Each inmate's behavior was rated daily in areas such as housekeeping, personal behavior, social behavior and personal hygiene. An inmate earned points for displaying appropriate behavior. The points could be exchanged for privileges.
The Gradient System accorded varying privileges to each housing floor at the high-rise. The original program envisioned all inmates admitted to the 14th floor. Appropriate behavior by an inmate would result in his being moved to the 13th floor, where he would enjoy more privileges. Continued appropriate behavior would result in the inmate moving gradually to the lower floors and ultimately moving to the 5th floor. The program allowed for the inmate on the 5th floor to work toward and eventually obtain parole.
Those inmates who had difficulty earning points in the program were identified for comprehensive evaluation to determine areas of deficits and the need for remedial programs to correct the problems that led to their criminal behavior and incarceration. The goal of the program was to insure that when the offender was returned to his community, he was ready to function as a successful and productive citizen. Unfortunately, the program was never fully implemented because full staffing was never funded. However, today, key elements of the program continue to be an important part of the overall management and treatment program at Western Youth Institution.
A 6-week training program for correctional officers, which may have been an early version of the department's Criminal Justice Academy, was developed by Dr. White and instructed by Lt. Gene Cousins to "professionalize" the custody staff. The training program was designed to teach each new officer what he needed to know, not only for effective custody and control of the inmate, but also how to implement the innovative management and treatment programs which Commissioner Bounds had envisioned and Dr. White had devised.
The first class of 20 correctional officers received diplomas from Western Piedmont Community College. The diplomas were awarded by President Gordon Blank and Richard Greene, Director of Adult Education. The first class included Charles T. Cottle, William K. Southard, Esper W. Beam, Jack A. Ledford, William L. Lawson, Tommy E. Wakefield, Stanley t. Carver, John W. Johnson, Johnny W. Brooks, Yates A. Kincaid, Doyle W. Shull, Ray T. Baker, Major R.M. Jarvis, Ralph V. Stamey, William L. Garrison, Deannie R. Walker, Harper Ervin, Vincent F. Hudgins, Larry H. Phillips and David Rodriquez.
On May 1, 1972, the first inmates arrived. They were adult minimum custody inmates selected from the Western Area and were assigned primarily to paint the interior of the building. A small number of these inmates were also placed on work release with local industry.
The institution was designated as a youth facility during the early summer of 1972. A number of youthful offenders, all under 21 years of age, were received form Polk Youth Center and Harnett Youth Center. Initial plans also included housing adult female inmates on the 5th floor and six female correctional officers were hired. As the youth population increased, however, conflicts between the much younger inmates under 18 and the older inmates, many who were 21 or older, were noted. Consequently, the decision was made to transfer the older inmates to adult facilities and female inmates were never assigned to the prison. It was also about this time that the old Burke Prison Unit was closed and its superintendent, John Ollis, transferred to Western as Custody Major.
Back to the top
Western Piedmont Community College...
Western Piedmont Community College has been a very important resource since the prison opened. WPCC has provided a variety of educational experiences and programs in cooperation with prison personnel.
In June 1972, the academic school was begun as a cooperative venture between WPCC and the prison. The school program was unique because it was designed around the learning lab concept with programmed instruction to prepare the student to successfully complete the General Education Development Test (GED). Students were tested on admission and assigned to level I school (illiterate to 3rd grade), level II (4th to 8th grade) or level III (pre-GED)
Students progressed through the levels to the GED. Western Correctional Center was the first correctional center to be granted permission by the State of North Carolina to give GED tests in the institution. WPCC was also approved to administer and award the GED certificate to inmates as young as 16.
One of the unique features of WPCC's joint venture with the prison in the 1970s allowed the GED graduate to take college level courses from WPCC. The majority of GED graduates could take college courses at the center, but a few, who achieved the appropriate minimum custody level, participated in the study release program. These inmates were allowed to take courses on the campus of WPCC, dress in regular civilian clothes and were indistinguishable from the typical WPCC student. In fact, one inmate obtained his Associate of Arts degree during the Spring 1973 graduation.
Today, Education Director Fred Ivery and Assistant Educator Director DeLea Payne, 13 DOC teachers and five WPCC teachers provide educational and vocational services to more than 314 inmates. Thirty inmates were in the most recent GED graduation class which is held four times per year.
WPCC was also involved in many other areas of training at the prison. Inmates were involved in a variety of programs including housekeeping classes, basic food production classes and cook and bake school. There was also a pre-release class designed to prepare inmates to successfully adjust to the free society. These inmates were taught about banking and finance, check writing, figuring interest, personal hygiene, social diseases, human relations and how to apply and interview for a job.
When the prison first opened, a few older inmates with experience in food service were transferred to the facility to prepare all the meals under staff supervision. The preparation of as many as 500 meals three times each day made it soon apparent that the prison would need to train its own younger inmates to work in food preparation. fortunately, WPCC again came to the rescue and developed a comprehensive food service program to train inmates. Currently, Food Service Director Garry Peele, his staff of seven and 60 inmates prepare 2,500 meals each day.
The Basic Food Production School was successful by both preparing competent food service workers for the Center and providing a post-release job skill for many inmates. After a food preparation course of just 10 weeks, one class won the second place award in the North Carolina Food Expo. A meat entree, salmon croquettes, took the second place in Class B (institutional cooking) at the food show held at the Merchandise Mart in Charlotte.
Another problem faced by the prison during the early years was solved by a WPCC training program involving housekeeping. Inmates were doing housekeeping chores and being supervised by correctional officers who were not qualified in cleaning an institution, especially in the finer points of housekeeping. No one on the staff had the kind of expertise which was required to instruct and supervise the cleaning. It was readily admitted that only a professional housekeeper could do the job satisfactorily. To meet this need, a Custodial Care and Maintenance Training program was started by the college. Instruction was provided for inmates and for the officers who would be supervising the housekeeping. The results of this program were immediately obvious as it made an amazing improvement in the appearance of the prison.
Back to the top
Early challenges and new superintendents...
During the summer of 1972, the population increased to the point where it became difficult to manage with the limited staff. At the time, a total of 55 officers managed the high-rise prison, although 98 custody officers had been requested to adequately man the 16-story facility. On July 2, 1972, Officer Jack Ledford was called in to work for another who had called in sick. Officer Ledford was assigned to manage both the 13th and 14th floor by himself due to the staff shortage. About midnight, a group of inmates who had been allowed out of their cells past the 11 PM lock-up to watch TV, lured officer Ledford to the mop room. The officer was beaten with a mop handle in the belief that he had the keys to the fire escape. He did not, as the first escape doors are controlled from the first floor control room. Officer Ledford suffered severe injuries, but might have been more seriously hurt had not an inmate on the floor summoned help.
Because there were no funds appropriated for additional correctional officers, rotation of correctional staff, including superintendents from other units across the state was initiated to relieve this management problem. A BOQ was established on the 5th floor where many officers working the relief rotation stayed as long as several weeks at a time. this relief rotation continued until the summer of 1973.
On November 1, 1972, John Harrison was appointed the second superintendent of Western Correctional Center. Dr. White continued as Western Area Administrator with responsibility for the eight prison units in the west. Senior staff who worked closely with Superintendent Harrison included Custody Major John Ollis, Administrative Officer George Green and Program Supervisor Bob Smith. On November 3, Gov. Robert Scott, along with U.S. Senator Sam Ervin, led a large group of correctional employees in a dedication ceremony of the newest correctional facility in the state.
John Harrison's tenure as superintendent continued until June 1, 1973 when he was replaced by Frank O. Gunter. When Gunter assumed the role of superintendent, the senior staff included Administrative Assistant George Greene, business Manager Tom Corley and Program Supervisor Bob Smith. During Gunter's service, the mission of Western Correctional Center was changed and it became the diagnostic center for all youthful offenders under 18 years of age, from all 100 counties of the state.
Back to the top
In December 1973, concerned staff and community volunteers including Glen McFall, Jim Billings and L.S. Inscoe, encouraged by the support of Superintendent Gunter and Burke County Boy Scout coordinator Skip Pike (now senior chaplain at Central Prison) chartered the first Boy Scout Explorer Post organized in a North Carolina prison.
It was initially developed as an indoor program for the youthful offenders (ages 14 to 18) assigned to the Western Correctional Center. From its rather quiet beginning, an active offsite program was developed which included regular community service projects and overnight therapeutic camping trips, as well as a variety of recreational and educational activities.
The Explorer Post's community projects included cutting and delivering firewood to a needy family selected by the Department of Social Services, as well as working with Morganton's Christmas Cheer Program. An article in the Morganton News Herald at the time reported:
They helped in a variety of ways, including sorting toys that were brought in during the day taking people around to different rooms where toys were arranged according to age and whether for girls or boys, looking after small children while their parents went to select toys, passing out cookies and helping clean.
Other projects included: sponsoring retarded children at the Western Carolina Center, the regional center for handicapped children through the "Big Brother Program," helping the United Christian Ministry of Burke County restore, paint and move into its new facility, helping the City of Morganton's Recreation Department make repairs at the Children's Park, clean-up projects at the First Presbyterian Church and picking up litter along the roadsides.
Educational and recreational activities for the group included tours of a local radio station, the Morganton Police Department and a local native American museum, as well as movies, skating and day programs supervised by the Morganton Outward Bound School at Table Rock.
The Explorer Post, under the direction of Superintendent Dan Stieneke and Program Director Bob Smith and guided by several Explorer Advisors including Programs Supervisors Bill Morrow, Leon Morrow and Clyde Ross, was accorded numerous honors including Piedmont Council Honor Unit in 1974, and Explorer Post of the Year-Table Rock district, B.S.A. in 1979, 1981 and 1983. In 1983, the Explorer Post received the Governor's Volunteer Award and the post was the recipient of the National Honor Unit Award.
During 1973 and 1974, staff from Western Correctional Center were involved in an extensive effort to persuade local churches to collectively fund a full-time chaplain position. Presentations were made to nearly every church in the area and with assistance from local ministers including John McCoy, First Presbyterian; Wendell Gary, first Baptist; Frank Grice, Zion United Methodist; Bill Goble, Director of Missions for the Catawba River Baptist Association; and Harriet Inscoe, community volunteer, the position was funded in September 1974. the Rev. Bill Hall, who continues as Western's Senior Chaplain today, was employed full-time. This position received state funding in 1976. today, Chaplain Hall directs the prison's religious programs with two full-time state supported chaplains, Bruce Hill and Mike Evans and the contract-Islamic chaplain Nasif Majeed and June Smith, a volunteer chaplain. A community volunteer corps of about 80 individuals provide a variety of services including Bible study, Yokefellows Ministry, Prison Fellowship, NA and AA, Arts and off-site sponsorship.
Also during this period, the Division of Prisons Youth Services Complex was formed and Gunter was named its first director. The Youth Services Complex included Western Correctional Center, Burke Youth Center and the newly acquired Sandhills Youth Center at McCain, North Carolina.
Gunter left Western Correctional Center in December 1974 to take over the helm of Walpole State Prison in Massachusetts. Robert Caldwell became Acting Superintendent assisted by Administrative Assistant George Greene and Program Director Bob Smith until March 1975 when Mack Jarvis, the former Chief of Custody for the institution (and current Secretary of Correction), was appointed superintendent.
During June 1975, violence erupted at the North Carolina Correctional Center for Women in Raleigh and 34 female inmates identified as ringleaders of the riot were transferred to the Western Correctional Center and housed on the 16th floor. This created some concern within the staff because adequat female staff trained in custody procedures were not immediately available. However, through the cooperation of female clerical staff, teachers, case analysts and program personnel, custody requirements were met. On September 26, 1975, all female inmates were returned to the Correctional Center for Women in Raleigh.
Also in 1975, western Correctional Center was awarded a Law Enforcement Assistance Administration Grant to evaluate its contingency management program. D. Scott Cutting, Ph.D., a local psychologist and Bill May, Ph.D.,a professor at Appalachian State University were employed by the grant. Funds were also provided to send senior custody staff to Raleigh each month for training in the principles of behavior management. Four program supervisors, Ted Baroody, Mike smith, Don smith and Leon Morrow (current superintendent of Western Youth Institution), were employed to start the program. They were later joined by Keith Osteen (current Blue Ridge Youth Center superintendent). As a result of the study, changes were made in the program which made it less complicated and easier for officers to apply consistently. the results of this three year evaluation found that the program was a very effective in assisting correctional officers to manage and supervise the energetic and often impulsive youthful offender. the current program has changed little since the study.
It was also during this time that the Superintendent Burke Youth Center, John Ollis, was transferred to the Caldwell Correctional Center. Stephen Bailey (current Foothills correctional Institution superintendent) left Western Correctional Center to become Burke's superintendent.
Back to the top
A new superintendent refines programming...
On August 1, 1977, Dan Stieneke, a former staff psychologist at Harnett Youth Center, became the fifth superintendent when Mack Jarvis was promoted to Western Area Administrator. Senior staff under the supervision of Stieneke included Administrative Assistant George Greene, Assistant Superintendent for Custody Robert Caldwell, Program Director Bob Smith and Burke Youth Center Superintendent Steve Bailey.
During Stieneke's tenure, a number of innovative programs were implemented and programs initiated under other superintendents were refined. Among these were the Contingency Management Program, the Explorer Scout Post, the educational program which was expanded by the addition of the new Exception Students Program (P.L. 94-142), which provides special education opportunities for all educationally handicapped inmates.
A cooperative work program, lead by the center's superintendent, Dan Stieneke, and Burke Youth Center superintendent Stephen Bailey and Western Carolina Center Director Dr. J. Iverson riddle, brought inmates form the Burke Youth Center to the Western Carolina Center, a regional retardation center. Initially, the inmates worked various jobs at the Western Carolina Center including housekeeping, janitorial, warehouse, painting and landscaping. Dr. Riddle, who was then a contractual psychiatrist at the Western Carolina Center (and still is), believed that specially selected inmates could assist Western Carolina Center staff in their day-to-day care of residents of the retardation center.
In cooperation with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, a training program was developed which allowed inmates to work toward certification as Health Care Technicians. Special job assignments were identified for inmates to work under the direct supervision of staff and with center residents in direct patients care. Many inmates received the Health Care Technician Certification and several were employed at other state retardation centers and hospitals after their release from prison.
In March 1983, the North Carolina Recreation and Parks Association selected the prison's Recreation Department to receive the Distinguished "Life Be In It" award as having the best new program in North Carolina. The new program was developed and implemented by prison Recreation Director Ron Blackburn, and entitled "Therapeutic Recreation in a Correctional Facility." Ron, a former star pitcher for the Pittsburg Pirates, was employed to coordinate recreation programs for the prison system's Western Area in 1971, after retiring form professional baseball. he became the prison's recreation director in 1972.
Superintendent Stieneke and Blackburn went to Charlotte to receive the "Life Be In It" plaque at the association's annual convention. The program became the model for prison-based therapeutic recreation programs in North Carolina and in many other states. the therapeutic recreation program served handicapped inmates by adapting recreational and sporting activities to their level of physical and mental handicapping conditions. It was an individual and small group program which emphasized setting goals, developing individual programs and working under the close supervision of the recreation staff including Howard Johnson (current Marion Correction Institution recreation supervisor) and Charles Avery (current Western Youth Institution Program Director).
Superintendent Stieneke left Western Correctional Center in December 1986 when he was promoted to district manager in the North Piedmont Area. Leon Morrow left his position as a staff psychologist in the North Central Area in January 1987 to become the prison's sixth superintendent. Senior staff at the facility included Assistant Superintendent for custody and operations Steve Bailey; Assistant Superintendent for programs Bob Smith and Administrative officer George Green.
The need for a residential substance abuse treatment program had been recognized for some time. Superintendent Morrow directed a work group that included himself, Bob Smith, Bill Hartley and Bill Morrow to explore such a program. the result of a great deal of work by this group, who were also enthusiastically joined by tom Ivestor was the development of SARGE, Substance Abuse Recovery Group Experience, in 1987. this was an in-house four week intensive group experience addressing the various issues of substance abuse. Its first director was David Mazilewski. he was succeeded by Randy Thornton and Marguerite Duren. this program was merged with the DART program in 1992 and is currently led by Myrtle Lavoie.
In late 1985, the age of inmates admitted to Western Correctional Center was increased to include 18 year old males. this resulted in a significant increase in the population of inmates that has continued ever since. the total number of cells available in the high rise is 503, including the ten regular housing floors, each with 46 single man cells, the 15th floor with four medical isolation cells and a six-man infirmary cell and the 16th floor segregation unit with its 33 single-man cells. the average daily population from about 1985 to 1992 exceeded 650 inmates in the main building. On at least one occasion in 1986, the population exceeded 700 inmates. During this time, inmates were housed on all four hallways on each of the 10 regular housing floors. since about 1992, when the population has exceeded the cell space, inmates have been housed in bunk beds in the dayroom areas of the regular housing floors.
Inmates assigned to the minimum custody Unit are involved in the GED program in the evenings and work programs during the day. Approximately 30 inmates work at the Western Carolina Center each day and 12 inmates comprise the DOT work crew. About 50 inmates participate in the BRIDGE program which was previously located at the Burke Youth Center which was closed in 1992 for the second time.
Back to the top
B.R.I.D.G.E. and the Young Life Center...
In the Spring of 1985, fire swept through thousands of acres of the South Mountains, destroying more than three dozen homes. Local prison officials and the N.C. division of Forestry Resources staff responded in the fall of 1986 with a cooperative effort which would benefit both local citizens and inmates. Known as the BRIDGE program which stands for Building, Rehabilitating, Instructing, Developing, Growing and employing, the program is designed to provide a local trained group of forest fire fighters who also provide labor for state-run and non-profit agencies in the area. typical of BRIDGE activities are fighting forest fires, planting trees, clearing forest access roads, and working at the South Mountain State Park. At its beginning, approximately 20 inmates assigned to the Burke Youth Center volunteered for the BRIDGE program. these non-violent offenders were screened first by the prison staff and then by forestry officials before selection for the program.
A unique feature of the program is its Helitack crew. five specially selected inmates with experience in the BRIDGE program are trained to fight forest fires at the earliest stages. A helicopter is used to transport the inmates as close to a beginning fire as possible and either land near the fire or, when necessary, inmates are lowered to the fire by ropes hanging from the helicopter.
In 1987, there was a proposal to build a new prison in Burke County near Brendletown or Table Rock to provide for expansion of the BRIDGE program. But opposition by citizens resulted in the abandonment of those sites. Instead, the program was expanded to include 50 inmates at Burke Youth Center and the search continued another site.
In 1988, a site near the Avery Correctional Center was selected for the new prison. Using inmate labor, the Blue Ridge Youth Center was constructed and opened in 1989. The prison houses about 60 inmates, most of whom work in the BRIDGE program.
A Unit Management Concept Committee was established by Superintendent Morrow November 17, 1987 and given the job of developing and implementing unit management at Western youth institution. the committee was able to implement a "Functional Case Management System" in April 1990 with the idea of eventually upgrading to the Unit Management System. Full implementation of the Unit Management System as used at the newer North Carolina prisons has not been possible at Western because of the structure of the housing floors and the limited increase in program staff over the years.
Following a "Bill Glass Crusade" ( a special religious program) several new volunteers began to work with Chaplain Bill Hall. one of those volunteers was fields Young, Jr., a community leader from Cleveland County. As a result of Young's dedication, hard work and persistence in lobbying for a chapel, legislators were convinced to fund construction of a chapel addition to Western youth Institution. A chapel committee, appointed by Superintendent Morrow included Bill Hall, Bob Smith, Steve Bailey and L.P. Dale, worked with Robert Salsbury Associates, P.A. Architects, as the chapel was designed and built. the groundbreaking ceremony was held December 12, 1989, a cold and snowy day. In honor and gratitude for the work of fields Young, the chapel is known as the The Young Life Center for Religious Activities. It was completed October 11, 1990.
In response to the increasing inmate population, the old 50-man burke Youth Center was closed in June 1992 and replaced by a new 200 man minimum custody unit adjacent to Western. The unit's 200 beds significantly eased the population pressure in he main building. The unit has held 240 inmates since shortly after it was opened.
Closing Burke and opening the minimum custody unit at Western caused a number of staff changes. Burke's superintendent Clyde Ross was named Western's assistant superintendent and Steve Bailey was named North Piedmont Area district manager.
Perhaps the most significant challenges for Western Youth Institution have occurred since the major building effort by the department began in the early 1990s. In 1987, there were 246 staff assigned to Western. by 1994, there were 364 and currently there are 386. The addition of new prisons nearby has provided an opportunity for many of Western's staff to be promoted to sergeants, lieutenants and captins. The prison's first female correctional officers have been promoted to sergeants.
The proportion of staff with more than five years experience in corrections has steadily decreased since 1990. A significant number of staff transferred to the newly built and opened Foothills Correctional Institution in 1994 and Marion Correctional Institution in 1996. A large number of new officers were hired. the process of transferring, hiring and promoting staff was a major accomplishment. There were about a dozen personnel packages prepared in 1990. In 1992, there were more than 100.
The budget of Western Youth institution which was about $8 million in 1987 was $12.7 million in 1994.
Western's average daily population of over 800 for the last two years continues to make it one of the largest prisons in the state. The large number of inmates to manage and the large number of new staff to train has been a major challenge.
Western's unique high rise design, innovative contingency management program and the dedication and competence of Superintendent Morrow and staff continue to meet each new challenge.
A History of Western Correctional Center was compiled by the Western Youth Institution history committee which included Bill Hall, Bill Hartley, Bob Smith, Steve Bailey, George Greene, Ron Blackburn and Charles Cottle.
Western Youth Institution
NC DOC Homepage
NC DOC News
NC DOC WEB Index
E-mail NC DOC