Transfers lessen sting of prison closure

Published 7:44 am Saturday, January 24, 2009

CAPRON—When Gov. Timothy Kaine announced in October that the Southampton Correctional Center, a medium-security prison near Capron, would be closed in January and eventually demolished, officials with the state Department of Corrections fretted over the news that 116 prison employees would lose their jobs.

But now that the prison’s closure date — Sunday — has arrived, department officials say only three employees, not 116, lost their jobs. The rest were either placed into vacant positions at other state prisons or left the department voluntarily.

Larry Traylor, the department’s director of communications, said that when the governor’s Budget Reduction Plan was announced on Oct. 9, 15 of the 231 positions at the prison were vacant and had not been filled.

“Of the (remaining) 216, about 195 employee placements have been completed as of this date,” Traylor said. “We have been able to place almost all of those (workers).”

Four people resigned, two were terminated, and five requested retirements, Traylor said.

Officials acknowledged, however, that there was a downside to some of the placements.

“Some employees went into the same or a reduced level” of seniority, David Robinson, regional director for the department’s Eastern Region, said. “Some may have taken a demotion.”

The announcement that the prison would be shuttered was just a small part of a detailed plan announced by the governor to address a $973 million revenue shortfall for the current fiscal year. Kaine said he would cut 570 jobs across state government, 800 unfilled positions would be eliminated, hiring freezes would be continued, and employee raises would be postponed.

Southampton was to bear the largest cut of personnel in the Department of Corrections: 116 workers.

Robinson emphasized that despite being able to place most Southampton workers elsewhere, the Department of Corrections still lost positions overall.

“We were able to move people to vacant positions, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t lose positions,” Robinson said.

Traylor said that at the time of Kaine’s announcement, the department had about 1,200 vacant positions. The governor reduced the “total position level” for the department by 697.5 workers, and of those 330 were considered layoffs, Traylor said.

Robinson said the last day there were prisoners at Southampton was Nov. 21.

“They were dispersed to other prisons throughout the state,” he said.

The prison, located northwest of Capron at the intersection of Three Creeks Road and Old Belfield Road, held about 650 inmates in October.

Robinson said the projected completion date for the prison’s demolition is February 2012. Traylor said in October that the age of the prison was a factor in the governor’s decision to close and demolish it. The oldest building at the site was built in 1938.

The prison was the fourth-largest employer in Southampton County in 2007, according to data supplied by the county. It was the fifth-largest employer in the area when combined with the city of Franklin.

Three other prisons in the immediate area — Deerfield Correctional Center, Southampton Work Center for Men, and Southampton Pre-Release and Work Center for Women — are not affected by the closure of Southampton.

Robinson said the state plans to continue its agribusiness activities at the Southampton site with inmates from the other prisons. Also, the power plant will be kept operational, and some maintenance and support staff will be retained, Robinson said.