Prison recruiters seek support of top officials

First Posted: 12/26/2008

Along with making New Years resolutions, January could be busy in other ways for top political leaders in North Carolina who are expected to hear sales pitches from Surry and other counties seeking prisons.
Dean Brown, a member of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners who is heading the local recruitment effort, said that a meeting is being sought with Bev Perdue, who will take office next month as governor.
Weve talked it, Brown said Wednesday, referring to members of a local prison committee, and we have somebody thats trying to get with her.
Another person targeted for the appointment list is Franklin Freeman, a Surry County native who for six years headed the state Department of Correction. The DOC is the agency that will oversee the building of three new penal facilities over the next decade which are targeted for the western portion of North Carolina.
We have some people trying to contact him, too, Brown said of Freeman, who also once led the state Administrative Office of the Courts and now serves as senior aide to outgoing Gov. Mike Easley. Freeman, a former prosecutor in Surry County, is one of the most popular political figures in the state.
We dont have any definite plans yet, but we have talked about it and we have a person working on it, Brown said of meetings with Perdue, Freeman and others who might aid Surrys efforts to secure a facility and the hundreds of new jobs it represents.

Others Making Push
While an ambitious effort is under way locally aimed at securing a new 1,000-bed correctional institution for male inmates, the same can be said of other economically troubled counties seeking the same thing. Among these are Wilkes, McDowell and Rockingham counties.
In some of those areas, the recruitment efforts are eerily familiar with what has been occurring in Surry.
In Wilkes County, officials agreed recently to renew efforts to secure a close-security prison, the custody level between medium and maximum. Wilkes application as a potential site apparently was stepped up after officials there learned of the vigorous effort mounted by Surry.
We need to let them know were at the top of the list, Robert Johnson, a North Wilkesboro town commissioner, said in a report published by the Wilkes Journal-Patriot newspaper.
Wilkes officials also have pledged to set aside a time to meet with Perdue as soon as she takes over as governor; at last report that appointment was being sought by Town Manager Hank Perkins.
Surrys effort also has attracted the attention of McDowell County, where commissioners approved the recruitment of a medium-security prison earlier this month. While recognizing that such a project is at least two years out, McDowell County officials said that based on recent activity in Surry, they see a need to strongly promote their area as well to the state prison system.
McDowell already has one penal facility, Marion Correctional Institution, which opened in 1995 and has a capacity for about 800 prisoners. No escapes have been reported at that close-security facility.
In late November, a delegation of civic and governmental leaders from Rockingham and the city of Eden visited Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville where a group from Surry would go on Dec. 8, aimed at showing local residents how modern prisons operate.

Additional Strategies
Along with seeking face-to-face meetings with key state leaders, Brown said contacts are being made locally with federal officials including Rep. Virginia Foxx, who represents Surry County in Congress, and Sen. Richard Burr of Winston-Salem.
Brown said that while the prison site selection ultimately will be made by the state General Assembly in conjunction with the Department of Correction, Foxxs and Burrs support is sought because the project aids the economy in an area they represent.
Support also is being sought from neighboring counties, such as Stokes, said Brown, who explained that this strategy relates to the fact that a prison in Surry also could provide job opportunities for citizens there.
On Wednesday, Brown was at his home preparing correspondence to numerous recipients who possibly could aid the recruitment push. [email protected] been here working on it since early this morning, on Christmas Eve, the Mount Airy commissioner said.
Were just trying to make as large an impression as we can on state legislators, Brown said. The local group, which has yet to identify a primary site for the proposed prison, is expected to make an official request for a facility to the state Legislature in late January.
Sarah Stevens, a Mount Airy attorney who will join the N.C. House next month after her November election to a seat representing Surry, said recently that she wants to hear points of view from all constituents leading up to the next legislative session.
Everything Ive been receiving has been positive, Stevens said of the prison idea, with one reason for this possibly surrounding the fact that a site has not been picked.
She also urged anyone with a negative opinion about the proposal to relay it to her, saying this should come now instead of later.
Even with all the competition and political maneuverings that will have to be addressed before the state decides where to build its prisons, Brown is optimistic.
The prisons going to be our next Christmas miracle in Surry County, he said.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected], or at 719-1924.

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