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With the state announcing Tuesday it will “temporarily suspend operations” at three minimum custody prisons, including Odom in Jackson, Halifax County officials say the matter could be a possible springboard into discussions with Northampton County about a regional jail concept.

Halifax County commissioners at their last meeting this month discussed the possibility of meeting with Northampton commissioners at the request of Northampton’s board chairman.

No date has been set, Halifax County board Chairman Vernon Bryant said this morning. “We are in discussions about meeting with the Northampton County Board of Commissioners. Both counties have the same needs. We just need to see how we can have a good discussion.”

As far as Odom, Bryant said, “They’ve not actually said they are going to close the facility. We could have a discussion about it. It could possibly be a topic of discussion at our retreat in December. We’re just exploring the possibility of talking with Northampton.”

Tuesday the state Department of Public Safety announced as part of ongoing reform efforts, the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice will temporarily suspend operations at three minimum custody prisons for the purpose of  better utilizing available staff and ultimately making state prisons and communities safer.

The statewide average correctional officer vacancy rate for August was estimated at 21 percent, the state said. This level of staffing impacts operations and limits the ability of staff to take leave and attend training. Staff vacancy rates also negatively impact the delivery of offender programs, a state news release said.

In the near future, the operations at Hoke Correctional Institution, Raeford; Tyrrell Prison Work Farm, Columbia; and Odom will be suspended for the purpose of deploying staff to neighboring prisons with high correctional officer vacancy rates.

The temporary suspensions will occur in phases, with Hoke CI being the first.

The redeployment of employees to nearby facilities and the moving of offenders to other minimum custody facilities statewide will happen in phases over the next few months. The agency will re-evaluate the three facilities’ status six months after the suspension of operations occur at each location.

“Prison administration has researched the suspension of operations at select facilities to counter the effect of an increasing employee vacancy rate on facility safety and security,” said ACJJ Chief Deputy Secretary Tim Moose. “We will continue to explore all options to aid in reducing vacancy rates and keeping our employees and communities safe.”

Other changes that will take place over the next few months include:

Designating Anson CI’s male minimum custody facility as the South Central region’s reentry facility, replacing Hoke CI.

Returning Neuse CI from a female facility to a male medium custody facility, housing primarily offenders with chronic health conditions. The facility was used to house female offenders during the remissioning of Anson CI from a male to a female facility.

Remissioning Hyde CI from a male medium/minimum custody prison to house only male minimum custody offenders.

“Employees will be temporarily reassigned to help their colleagues at facilities with high vacancy issues,” said Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee. “We value our employees and our goal is to reassign staff such that the temporary reassignments are accomplished with minimal disruption to families.”

Meanwhile, Halifax County Sheriff Wes Tripp said this morning, “I along with the commissioners are exploring all avenues to relieve the tension of our jail overcrowding to better serve the taxpayers in Halifax County.”

The state has put a cap on inmate population at the Halifax County Detention Center of 85 — 77 males to eight females. 

In February Tripp said the sheriff’s office averages anywhere from 20 to 25 inmates being housed elsewhere due to the cap at an average of $40 per day.