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Gates prison to close

GATESVILLE – For years, the Gates Correctional Center (GCC) has teetered on the edge of distinction.

Now, the end is near for the 70-year-old prison.

As part of state budget cuts, GCC will close effective Oct. 1.

According to GCC Administrator Dennis Daniels, the status of the 96 inmates at the facility and the 31 staff members is being worked out at the present time.

Daniels said North Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC) officials have inquired of where the GCC inmates would like to be transferred.

The GCC staff also has the opportunity for transfers to facilities within 35 miles of Gates County. Nearby DOC facilities are located in Bertie, Northampton and Pasquotank counties.

“There are plenty of openings within DOC at the facilities near us,” Daniels said. “We have been told that no staff member who wants to work for DOC will be sent home.”

Daniels added that DOC officials are expected to return to GCC within the next two-to-four weeks to discuss future options for the staff.

The prison’s closing ends a long-standing working relationship between GCC and local counties and municipalities.

For years, Hertford County local government has used GCC honor-grade inmates to perform a variety of jobs. That labor, priced at only $40 per month, saved the county from having to hire full-time maintenance workers. Those salaries run in the $16,000-$18,000 range, plus benefits, per laborer.

“The loss of the two laborers we use daily would impact us greatly,” Hertford County Manager Loria Williams said during a May interview. “We use two inmates on an almost daily basis to work for grounds, maintenance and building upkeep.”

Ahoskie and Murfreesboro also use GCC inmates to perform odd jobs in those towns.

Meanwhile, the Gates County Board of Commissioners were briefed about the prison’s closure during a special called meeting on Aug. 10.

According to Gates County Manager Toby Chappell, he informed the commissioners that the GCC wastewater treatment plant will be eventually transferred into the county’s possession. That plant, which sits on 20 acres of land, serves the prison as well as Gates County High School and Central Middle School.

“DOC will continue to operate the wastewater treatment plant for at least six months,” Chappell said. “We’ll use that time period to identify the personnel we need to acquire the level of training necessary to operate the plant once we take over its operation effective April 1, 2010.”

Chappell emphasized that the county will only take over GCC’s wastewater treatment plant, not the prison buildings.

He added that the county is seeking grant funds to provide a sanitary sewer district along an area of development on US 158 near the prison. The use of the GCC treatment plant is part of those development plans.

“The is the first hurdle we had to overcome in order to bring public sewer to this core area of the county in order to facilitate economic development,” Chappell said. “(State) Senator Ed Jones has been instrumental in helping us to realize this effort and we owe him a big debt of gratitude.”

GCC, built during the late 1930’s, is a minimum security prison for adult males. Its inmate population work in a number of jobs, including a road crew with the Department of Transportation. Inmates nearing parole may participate in work release, leaving the prison for the part of the day to work for a business in the community.

The state’s budget cuts also closed six other minimum security prisons across the state.

GCC was one of 61 field unit prisons renovated or built during the late 1930’s to house inmates who worked building roads.

In 1959, GCC housed white male youth sentenced for their first offense. In 1964, the mission of the prison changed. The male youth were transferred to Polk Youth Institution and GCC received black misdemeanants. Several years later all prisons were integrated and GCC remained a minimum security unit.

The prison’s original housing dormitory remains in use. In 1976, a modular dormitory was added.