Bertie prison dedicated

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 23, 2006

WINDSOR – On the exterior, the new Bertie Correctional Institution (BCI) consists of brick, mortar and seemingly endless rows of razor wire fencing.

It’s on the interior where one senses the true spirit of what this 93 million-dollar facility is about to accomplish.

With a host of local, regional and state officials on hand here yesterday (Monday), the 1,000 bed state prison was formally dedicated. The underlying message delivered from several fronts was that the prison was designed to house inmates in punishment of their crimes, not to further punish them for their misdeeds.

“Our mission is two-fold,” Boyd Bennett, Director of Prisons for the North Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC), said. “One, this facility is here to protect the public. Two, we’re here to provide the inmates an opportunity to change their lives.”

Citing the need to construct more 1,000-bed facilities due to an ever-increasing inmate population (BCI represents the fifth one of this size built in the past three years and number six is currently under construction), Bennett said the residents of the local area can rest assured that their safety is of top priority.

“This is a secure prison,” he noted. “It was built with safety and security in mind. It will protect the inmates, the staff and those living around its perimeter.”

North Carolina Secretary of Correction Theodis Beck delivered the keynote address during Monday’s dedication. He praised the efforts of Bertie County officials in bringing this facility, complete with its 403 jobs, to the local area.

“Never doubt that a small group of thought-provoking people can change the world,” Secretary Beck said. “That is what happened here in Bertie County. They stood firm and remained steadfast even when it appeared there was the possibility of this facility being built in another part of the state.”

Beck touted the impact the prison will bring n citing new jobs and economic prosperity; easing the backlog of prisoners awaiting transfer to a close-security facility and affording those inmates an opportunity to turn their lives around.

“Prisons are not just about brick and mortar,” Beck noted. “Through our association with Martin Community College, BCI will give inmates the necessary educational and vocational skills so they can succeed upon returning to society. By giving them the chance to succeed, it’s our desire not to see them return to a life of crime and thus return to prison.”

Secretary Beck promised BCI would be a good employer, a good neighbor and a place that will allow the local community and the entire state to become a safer place to live.

BCI Administrator Anthony Hathaway III opened the ceremony by thanking Bertie County and Town of Windsor officials for making what was once just a dream a reality. He offered a special thank-you to Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb, Windsor Mayor Bob Spivey and Rick Harrell, Chairman of the Bertie Board of Commissioners.

“Our motto here at BCI is changing lives through quality and integrity,” Hathaway said. “That message is God sent and it’s not just for the inmates, but for you and me. BCI will be holy ground.”

Harrell said this dream would not have become a reality without the support of the Bertie County citizens as well as Windsor town officials for seeing what could happen in a large expanse of woodland off Cooper Hill Road.

“They were the ones that got behind this effort and supported it wholeheartedly,” Harrell said. “Without them, we would not be here today. We are looking for a long-term partnership with DOC.”

Mayor Spivey thanked the county officials for asking the town to partner with them on this project. He said once the debt the county and town incurred was retired, both would set aside a portion of the gross proceeds for future endeavors in economic development.

The Mayor also summed up the underlying message of the day by saying, “We do not see this as a prison, but rather a rehabilitation center. It will become a place where lives are changed and skills are gained in order for these men to return to society with the knowledge to support themselves and their families.

Construction is complete on BCI, two years following the formal groundbreaking held on May 20, 2004.

The Division of Prisons expects to begin moving inmates into the 1,000-cell close-custody facility in July. The prison will employ about 400 people, including correctional officers and administrative, food service, medical, dental and maintenance staff. Its annual payroll is projected at $13 million.