Building a team for a new prison

Even knowing for several years that their prisons would close hasn't made it any easier for correctional officers to say good-by to the place where they've worked for years.

Granville, Halifax, Person and Vance correctional centers closed this year. As soon as the new prison opens on the other side of Warrenton, Warren Correctional Center will close, too. (See prison histories) Officers from the five prisons are moving from the small, low-security units built back in the 1930s to the soon-to-open medium security institution.

The old prisons were built more than 50 years ago after a 1933 bond issue provided $400,000 for establishing and equipping prison camps across the state, primarily for the convenience of road building and repair. The camps were of a standard design with capacity for 100 inmates.

Over the years, the missions of the prisons changed to meet the prison system's needs. Though similar in appearance and security, each prison was different. Person inmates worked at the Blanch Youth Institution metal products plant and Halifax inmates worked at the state prison farm. An old tire rim and horseshoe hung on posts outside the Warren dining hall. Clanging the two together brought inmates to meals and counts. At Vance, a bronze plaque on the prison's dormitory showed it was built in 1939. Person closed in August, Granville and Halifax in October and Vance in November.

"When we closed Halifax, we inventoried everything and looked at what could be transferred," said Staff Nurse Patricia Hargrave who transferred to Warren when Halifax Correctional Center closed. "I'd scrubbed the shelves. They'd taken the desk out. It was a strange feeling. I was without an inmate or a place to work."Patricia Hargrave, staff nurse at Warren C.C.

Since arriving at Warren Correctional Center, Hargrave says she's been busy helping to prepare for the move to the new prison. For now, she works in a room of the old Warren prison dormitory.

Red dot on floor at Warren C.C.Fifteen years ago, the dormitory housed 90 inmates. That's changed. Red dots on the floor show where the bunk beds must rest to meet court orders. The court-required dayroom sliced off more bedspace. Instead of 90, the dorm now houses 28.

Lt. Jack Callahan has been with the department for 19 years, the last 15 of them at Warren. At the same time the prison's capacity shrank, he remembers the prison was required to add staff inside the dormitory, on the prison yard and for transportation.

These changes increased the cost of operating the small units. At Warren Correctional Center, it costs $122 per inmate per day last fiscal year. At Neuse Correctional Institution, a new minimum security prison with more than 800 inmates, it costs $37.81.

This economy of scale was noted in 1992 by a legislative study committee which recommended building more efficient, larger prisons that would allow for the consolidation of small older units. Their proposals became law in 1994 when the General Assembly authorized construction of the new Warren Correctional Institution and the five prisons' consolidation.

"At the smaller units, I like the closeness you have with the staff. We know each other and we know each other's families," Lt. Callahan says. "You work your way to the position and shift you want, then going to a new facility there's uncertainy for you and your family."Lt. Jack Callahan, Warren C.C.
William Crews, Correctional Officer at Warren C.C.Correctional officer William Crews arrived after Vance Correctional Center closed. He's worked 17 years for the department. "My drive to work is about the same. With the interstate, it may be faster," Crews says. "Being a new place, there'll be adjustments."
"This year has been different," says Carson Clary, a Warren correctional officer. Clary is the father of one year-old twins and two teens. "We all want promotions down the line, but right now my goal is just to keep the same shift."Carson Clary, Correctional Officer at Warren C.C.

Other correctional officers are at the Warrenton armory reveiwing prison policies. They break from the policy review to talk about their new assignment.

"With all the experience in this room, great things can really happen."

"Another plus--it will mean new jobs for this community as the prison expands."

"You have a better chance to advance at a bigger unit than a small unit."

"Road squads will show the public inmates at work."

"We're dedicated to make sure correctional officers are taken care of," Superintendent Ted Smiley says walking out of the armory. He'd met with the officers earlier in the day and laid out his expectations with the group. "There was some apprehension after working at the smaller units, but they're excited," Smiley says. "I've promised to support them in their jobs and they've promised to support me in my job."

Smiley's enthusiasm is infectious. He worked his way up the ranks, remembers those days and wants officers to know he cares.

"There's enough folks out of this 160 that have worked with me before that they know how I operate,"Smiley says. He started out a correctional officer at Franklin Correctional Center in 1970. In four years, he made lieutentant. He moved to Vance Correctional Center, where he served as assistant superintendent from 1974 to 1985. He was promoted to superintendent of Granville Correctional Center, then became Warren Correctional Center superintendent in 1994.

Each of the new prison's housing units will be named after one of the consolidated correctional centers. In some respects, Smiley plans to hold onto the small unit atmosphere. Lieutentants will be assigned to manage each dorm just as they oversaw their old units--a fashion of the unit management concept. "That way, they'll know the inmates," Smiley says.

The superintendent is anxious to get into his new prison. For months, he's walked the construction site and even jogged around it at the end of the day. Construction and state inspections must be completed before the facility is turned over to the Department of Correction. Then Smiley can get his new team to ready the prison for inmates.

The next prison consolidation project is underway. Property is being graded for a prison on the Avery and Mitchell county line that will provide for the consolidation of Avery, Watauga and Yancey correctional centers.

Warren Correctional Institution quick facts
New North Carolina prisons opening soon
North Carolina Department of Correction homepage