State tries to help workers at closing prison find jobs

Sep. 13, 2013 @ 08:28 AM

State officials are trying to find jobs in other state prisons for employees of Western Youth Institution in Morganton, which includes some Caldwell County residents, but so far there are more people than available jobs.

Western Youth Institution, a prison for juveniles, has been winding down operations because the state's 2013-14 state budget calls for closing a total of five prisons in an effort to cut costs. Western will close Jan. 1, eliminating more than 300 positions.

The state has put a hiring freeze on 14 prisons in the western part of the state so employees at Western can apply for those jobs, said Keith Acree, communications officer for the N.C. Department of Public Safety. At the beginning of October, human resources workers will come to Western to help employees find new positions at other facilities.

Western employed 379 people and housed 785 inmates at full capacity, said Superintendent Barbara Belas, but today fewer than 100 inmates remain, as well as 240 employees. Fifty-three Caldwell County residents were employed at Western as of May, when the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners formally supported keeping the prison open. The facility, which has an operating budget of $16.3 million, employs mostly corrections officers as well as medical and nursing staff and other positions.

About 210 positions so far have been held open by the hiring freeze, Acree said, but by Jan. 1 more positions probably will become available.

“We’re trying to find positions for as many people as possible,” Acree said.

Acree said that about 45 Western employees have already resigned and left to pursue other jobs or go back to school,

Belas said some employees have been temporarily transferred to other prisons but still technically are on Western Youth Institution's payroll. After the closing of Western, positions at these facilities could become permanent.

Belas said she is retiring when Western closes, after 31 years serving the state.

“It is hard to say goodbye to a facility that has been here for 41 years,” Belas said. “There’s a lot of history and legacy that’s attached to this facility,” adding that the “work family” at Western has done an “unbelievable job.”