SMITHFIELD — Johnston Correctional Institution is in the midst of significant changes.
Drew Stanley took over as the prison’s superintendent Sept. 16 after Joseph Hall retired. He is overseeing the prison’s switch from medium security to a minimum security; that change will occur Jan. 1.
“The next three months are going to be challenging for everyone, but I’m looking forward to it,” Stanley said.
He said he was excited to come to Johnston Correctional Institution, which houses inmates in the state prison system. He is sure the transition will go smoothly thanks to the top-notch staff.
The security level is changing because of the state’s most recent budget, which closed five prisons across the state, said Keith Acree, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Public Safety. The closings included nearby Wayne Correctional Center in Goldsboro on Oct. 1.
Acree said the state decided to close the five prisons because of falling incarceration rates, which dropped by about 3,000 inmates in the last couple of years. Most of the closed prisons were minimum security, so converting Johnston Correctional Institution to minimum security helps balance out the closures, Acree said.
A medium-security prison has armed guards on the perimeter, Stanley said, while a minimum-security prison does not. The change means roughly 50 of about 250 prison staff will lose their jobs on Jan. 1. But the Department of Public Safety plans to place them all in nearby prisons.
“We don’t really do layoffs; we’re fortunate in that respect,” Stanley said. “We’ve known about this since the legislature left this summer, so we have not been filling vacancies. Some of those will be taken care of through attrition.”
Acree said some surrounding facilities have held vacant positions open for those leaving Johnston Correctional.
“We have ample positions available in the Wake County area, if people are willing to move in that direction,” he said.
The number of inmates, 640, will not change.
The new security designation will bring two new programs to the prison.
The state recently changed how it handles parole violations, Acree said. Before, a court could decide to let a person continue his parole or revoke it and send him back to prison.
Now, a court can decide to send an offender back to prison for only 90 days; the person then goes back on parole afterward.
The courts won’t revoke parole unless an offender has three strikes, Acree said.
“Hopefully we’ve gotten your attention and straightened you out before you’ve gotten to three,” he said.
Stanley said the state is planning to house 272 parole violators at Johnston Correctional Institution starting Jan. 1. He said many of the violations are substance abuse.
An unrelated substance-abuse treatment program will also come to the prison sometime next year, Stanley said. The program was formerly housed at Wayne Correctional Center.
At any given time, about 68 inmates from across the state will be in the program, called DART, for drug and alcohol recovery treatment, Stanley said.
Stanley, 49, comes to Johnston County with more than 25 years of experience.
He started in 1987 as a correction officer at Polk Correctional Institution in Raleigh. He worked his way up to director of the diagnostic center, making him responsible for new admissions into the prison system. In 2005, he took a job as regional programs manager.
Stanley then transferred in 2008 to Nash Correctional Institution as an assistant superintendent, where he worked until coming to Johnston County last month.