All Tyrrell prison offenders moved to other facilities

Published 11:34 pm Tuesday, December 24, 2019

“The offenders at Tyrrell Prison Work Farm have all been transferred to other facilities as the Division of Prisons temporarily suspends operation at the prison,” John Bull, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Public Safety, confirmed Friday morning, Dec. 20.

“Also underway are the temporary transfers of staff to other prisons in the region, in order to alleviate high vacancy rates there,” Bull also reported. “I don’t have a timetable for the completion of staff transfers.”

More than 100 staff jobs are being moved elsewhere.

Local petitions and resolutions plus correspondence from state legislators to prison officials, aimed at reversing the state’s decision to close the 650-offender capacity prison north of Columbia, did not slow the evacuation process.

Both Tyrrell County and the Town of Columbia went into debt to furnish water and sewer services to the prison on Snell Road, with the understanding that payments for those services would enable the two local governments to repay their loans.

Unresolved is what can be done to keep Tyrrell County (at $25,000 per month) and the Town of Columbia (at $17,500 per month) from defrauding on their 20-year bonds.

The only viable answer at this time seems to be a special appropriation by the state General Assembly. However, two other prisons – in Hoke and Northampton counties – are also closing and may be forcing similar burdens on local governments there.

Another problem is “the potential health hazard caused by the reverse-osmosis [water supply] system sitting dormant over a longer than normal period of time, which could create both health risks for the citizens of the county, as well as regulatory problems with the Department of Environmental Quality,” as Sen. Bob Steinburg (R-Chowan) stated to the state prisons chief more than a month ago.

The decision to suspend operations at Tyrrell Prison Work Farm was based upon the “current high vacancy rates at Tyrrell, the fact that the majority of the staff do not live in Tyrrell County (only 25% are county residents), and the critical need for additional staff at Bertie, Hyde and Pasquotank correctional facilities,” wrote Eric Hooks, secretary of Public Safety on Dec. 2.

Tyrrell Prison Work Farm had, at the end of October, 101 budget-authorized correctional officer positions, of which 26 were vacant, Bull stated earlier.

“The staff at Tyrrell Prison Work Farm will be temporarily reassigned to Pasquotank CI, Bertie CI and Hyde CI (the latter will be remissioned from a medium custody to a minimum custody facility because it takes fewer staff to operate a minimum custody facility),” Hooks wrote.

Hooks also promised that “Prisons leadership will reevaluate the temporary suspension of operations at Tyrrell Prison Work Farm six months after the last offender is transferred.”

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