Former workers at closed private prison in Hertford County, NC say severance would help

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WINTON, N.C. (WAVY) — An executive order by President Joe Biden led to 350 people losing their jobs at a private prison in Hertford County, and they say a severance package would help them get back on their feet.

Biden’s decision to discontinue contracts with for-profit federal lockups affected Rivers Correctional Institution almost immediately. Its contract with the federal government was up on March 31, and that’s when the prison closed.

Geo Group, based in Boca Raton, Fla. owns and operates Rivers and correctional centers around the world.

Darren Smallwood began working there in 2005, four years after it opened. He was promoted from guard to sergeant to lieutenant and lost his job as supervisor of transportation. Smallwood says Geo Group could have taken better care of its 350 laid-off workers.

“Reach out to them and say hey, here’s a severance package. X amount of dollars for X amount of years that you’re getting. Right down to six months,” Smallwood said.

Geo Group would not comment specifically on the workers’ request for severance, but pointed to a list of services they are offering to help them find new employment.

The head of the prison guards’ union, Federation of Federal Employees President Randy Erwin, said at the time the prison was closing the Biden order to discontinue contracts with private prisons like Rivers “is going to cost a lot of hard-working people their good union jobs. We strongly encourage the White House to reconsider its position.”

According to Smallwood, an entry-level guard would earn about $45,000 a year on average, with opportunities for overtime and pay raises over time.

Rivers housed about 1,000 federal low-to-medium security inmates. Geo Group says more than half of those committed crimes while in the U.S. illegally and would be deported after completing their sentence.

The Rivers prisoners were transferred to federal not-for-profit lockups in several different states.

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