HEADLINE: Private prison guard bill gets final approval
BYLINE: By GARY D. ROBERTSON, Associated Press Writer
DATELINE: RALEIGH, N.C.
BODY: Guards at a private federal prison in Hertford County can use deadly force in catching escapees under a bill approved Thursday by the General Assembly.
The security officers at the Wackenhut Corrections Corp. prison near Vinton will be able to shoot at prisoners who attempt escape.
The use of deadly force would be allowed statewide, but lawmakers added language they believe will keep the powers of these guards in check.
Some lawmakers figuratively held their noses as they pushed the legislation that was needed for the private officers to do their job. The General Assembly imposed a moratorium on new private prisons but couldn't block the federal contract with Wackenhut.
"I'm one of the most skeptical people when it comes to private prisons," said Sen. Frank Ballance, D-Warren. "We have to be careful in using this sort of thing."
The Wackenhut officers ultimately will monitor 1,200 low-risk federal prisoners from Washington, D.C. More than 700 men are in custody since the $63 million prison opened in March, a Wackenhut Corp. executive said.
The compromise, approved unanimously in the Senate and by a wide margin in the House, follows five months of negotiations over what kind of restrictions to place on the officers. The bill now goes to Gov. Mike Easley for his signature.
The major sticking point between versions approved in the respective chambers was on where the deadly force could be used. The House version limited the power to Hertford County; the Senate bill expanded it to other counties.