North Carolina is merging two Anson County prisons and turning one into a minimum-custody facility that will provide skills and educational programs to nonviolent inmates or those nearing release.
The merging of Brown Creek Correctional Institution and neighboring Lanesboro Correctional Institution is the latest example of a state program to better provide inmates with specific skills, educational and treatment needs.
In this case, the Department of Public Safety will convert Brown Creek, a medium-custody facility, into a 350-bed minimum-custody prison. It will operate under the Lanesboro name and its management team.
Prison officials said the change would help the state with a continual challenge: hiring enough officers at the rural prisons, where work can be dangerous and the pay is low. New officers earn about $31,000 a year.
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“It’s long been known that they’ve encountered challenges with maintaining low vacancy rates in that area,” said Pamela Walker, department spokeswoman. “(Staff vacancies) certainly played into the decision.”
According to the state, the number of inmates at the two prisons will drop from about 2,300 to 1,850 as some are moved to prisons across the state. Staff will drop from about 880 to 630, though Walker said the department goal is to have a higher staff-to-inmate ratio at Lanesboro’s close-custody units.
Close-custody units house the state’s most violent offenders. Lanesboro houses medium- and close-custody inmates.
Elizabeth Forbes, director of the criminal justice reform group NC CURE, said the change could benefit inmates and taxpayers.
“If done right, and if they put the money into it, the end results are going to cut down on people returning to prison,” Forbes said.
Walker said the changes would take about three months.
Brown Creek and Lanesboro have had checkered pasts.
Last year, convicted murderer Kristopher McNeil escaped from Brown Creek during a tryst with a female prison worker. Police caught McNeil, who had scaled the prison's chain-link fence, near the Davidson-Forsyth county line, about 80 miles north of the prison.
Kendra Lynette Miller, who began working at Brown Creek in early 2015, was charged with having sex with an inmate, providing a phone to an inmate, harboring a fugitive and aiding and abetting a fugitive.
This year, Polkton police charged Lanesboro correctional Officer Scarlette King Hodges with possession of a controlled substance on the premises of a prison, possession with intent to, manufacture, sell and deliver heroin, and providing tobacco/vapor to an inmate.