Isn't it about time to move Central Prison?

Published September 27, 2018

By Joe Mavretic

by Joe Mavretic, former House Speaker and NC SPIN panelist, September 27, 2018.

If you don’t keep up with the happenings and going’s on around our capitol city, you may have missed all the hoopla about Dix Hill.

The property, on which the Dorothea Dix Hospital (Dix Hill) has stood for decades, has been acquired by the City of Raleigh for a huge park complex. One of these days this park will be Raleigh’s answer to New York’s Central Park. This will be an elegant addition to our capitol city. Now we need to begin thinking about what the Dix Hill part of Raleigh will look like in another decade and it’s not pretty.

On the other side of the street, just north of the park, is North Carolina’s Central Prison which is sitting on twenty-nine acres of some of the most valuable urban land in our state. Central Prison opened in 1884 and has been in operation for one hundred and thirty four years. Our Castle style, close custody, central prison is divided into six units and has a capacity of about eleven hundred male inmates sentenced for twenty or more years. The staffing ratio is about one-to-one.

Think about the current situation: Less than three thousand persons are tied to a century-old prison on twenty-nine acres in the heart of our capitol city. To make this situation more ludicrous, on the same side of the street as the prison, within walking distance, is Raleigh’s most impressive family spot-“Pullen Park.” Within a half-mile west of Central Prison lies the main campus of North Carolina State University and less than a mile east is the Convention Center, the Red Hat amphitheater and the brand new Amtrak station.

In 1884, when Raleigh was much smaller, before automobiles were invented, having our central prison near our center of government may have made sense-that’s no longer true in the 21st century. Instead of being an out-of-date nineteenth century eyesore, our close-custody prison(s) should incorporate the most modern design, facilities, technology and theory.

Prisons are economic development tools and should be placed where they can help our struggling counties. Currently there are fifty five state prisons scattered around North Carolina. Inside those fifty five prisons are about 37,000 inmates and about 20,000 staff. Prison employees should live nearby where they can afford the cost-of-living and not have to travel great distances. Businesses that support a prison should be within a reasonable radius.

Central Prison is just the first prison that needs to be moved. The second one is North Carolina’s Correctional Institute for Women (NCCIW). This thirty-acre facility at 1034 Bragg Street in Raleigh sits in the middle of the next building boom inside Raleigh’s beltline. Moving this prison would disrupt neighborhoods, require relocations, affect property values and change southeast Raleigh. This is going to happen anyway because increasing downtown land costs will continue to upset this neighborhood.

One of North Carolina’s poorer counties could benefit from the one thousand jobs at NCCIW.

If we have the foresight, and courage, to relocate the two Raleigh prisons, then we should to be able to start asking which agencies of state government ought to be relocated from Raleigh to other locations throughout the state. There is no longer a need to have many of our executive branch agencies in Raleigh or in Wake County.

Isn’t it about time to relocate Central Prison? Our state can afford it, Raleigh no longer needs it and another county could benefit from it.