Carroll trying to lock down new prison

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — With the state developing more new prisons in the future, Carroll could possibly lock one of those down, says the chairman of the county's Prison Study Committee.

In the process of gathering information on the long-term plans of the Virginia Department of Corrections, J.B. Gardner has learned that state officials see the need for as many as five new correctional facilities in the future.

Locations have been found for two of those prisons, meaning that locations have not been found for three others, said Gardner — a county deputy and school resource officer at Carroll County High School.

The committee has heard no specific timeframe to build those prisons — state officials are supposed to do advanced legwork to be ready as funds become available, Gardner said.

"I think the community stands a good chance," Gardner said. "If they're interested in a prison, they stand a good chance to get one. "

He stressed that landing a prison depends on how Carroll citizens feel about the issue.

It's much more likely that a prison would locate in a place where there isn't a large public outcry against it, Gardner noted. So part of the committee's goal is to listen to public sentiment.

Members have created a brief survey with only two questions — why the respondent does or does not want a prison to come to Carroll and why a prison, in their opinion, could be good or bad for the county.

"I just want to know how you feel about it basically," he said. "If you live in Carroll County I want you to fill out one of those forms."

The opportunity to bring the jobs associated with a prison seems to make a pretty compelling case so far.

"I've not heard anybody say 'no' yet," Gardner said. "I've not had a single person tell me they were against the prison — people are interested in jobs and there's no jobs here."

People want employment opportunities in Carroll for their children and their grandchildren, so they don't have to move away to find a job, Gardner said.

The committee's creation came as work continues on a 1,024-bed, medium-security prison for men that will bring 350 jobs to neighboring Grayson County when it opens in 2010.

The Carroll prison study committee remains in its early stages, but the members will pursue several opportunities to gather information, including community meetings to gauge public opinion.

Committee members also will look at federal and private prisons as part of their process.

Gatherings are planned around the county at different community schools, the Sylvatus Ruritan and in Vaughn. Meeting dates haven't been announced.

A public hearing before the Carroll Board of Supervisors is anticipated for the Dec. 8 meeting.

But citizens don't have to wait until the public meetings to give their input.

A copy of the brief survey is available at carrollcountyva.org/prison.

Committee members also have scheduled visits to Keen Mountain and Pocahontas correctional facilities, Gardner said. Plus, the committee members will meet with Tazewell County Administrator Jim Spencer before the workday begins, at 5:45 a.m., to talk about the impact of a prison on that county — both negative and positive.

Committee members want to know about the risk of escapes, about possible construction jobs associated with getting a prison, what medical needs will increase in the community with the prison being there.

The Tazewell administrator seems enthusiastic about helping Carroll officials learn what they need to know about prisons — he has offered to meet with the county supervisors about it as well, Gardner said.

"The time to get your name on the list is now and not 10 years from now," Gardner said. "Just the possibility of being considered is enough to at least look into it."

Prison committee members have also heard about the possibility of a training facility for correctional officers being developed somewhere in this region. Gardner said that the committee members are interested in getting that project.

"They're going to build it somewhere," he said. "It'd be nice if it were here."