GLENVILLE -- While the mood at Wednesday's grand opening of Federal Correctional Institution-Gilmer was generally celebratory, U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd's keynote remarks focused on the reality of the booming prison business.
"When life seems to offer few choices, it is unfortunate that one of those choices seems to be crime," said Byrd, D-W.Va. He spoke at a ceremony inside the sprawling gray and white compound, which is surrounded by a double-walled fence and heaped concertina wire.
Byrd connected the historic rise of American prison populations to everything from violent music and television to a national de-emphasis of religious faith.
"By allowing so much violence to creep into our daily lives through our television and our radios, we are planting the seeds of much trouble to come in our youth."
But, Byrd said, the need for a fourth federal prison in West Virginia was not about future reaping.
"I know some people think that if we build more prisons, the prisoners will just come," he said. "Well, the fact of the matter is, they are already here. Existing prisons in the United States are overflowing."
The Gilmer County prison and adjacent camp will house more than 1,600 medium- and minimum-security inmates -- all male -- by this fall, according to Marybeth Cully, executive assistant for the Mid-Atlantic Region of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. During Wednesday's ceremony, more than 200 prisoners already were on site, although not visible to about 300 guests and staff.
A federal high-security facility is also under construction in Preston County. The state's oldest federal prison came to Morgantown in 1927.
Lamenting the need for such institutions, Byrd said FCI-Gilmer will be worth its weight in gold if it can "achieve (the) goal of returning inmates to society with the skills to become productive citizens." FCI-Gilmer's actual cost is about $135 million.
He also acknowledged the economic development aspect of the prison, which attendees enthusiastically applauded. The Gilmer facility brings about 350 jobs -- of which Cully said three-fourths will be filled locally -- and annual expenditures of about $30 million.
"You're talking federal jobs. You're not talking Wal-Mart," said Glenville-based entrepreneur Ike Morris. "This is a great thing for Gilmer County."
He donated the 300-plus acres that is home to the prison, a move Byrd said was the tipping point in Gilmer County's selection as its site.
Morris is also among the businessmen who are developing its perimeter. A Best Western motel and restaurant are already under construction near the site, which is close to downtown Glenville.
Larry Chapman, president of the Gilmer County Commission, also praised the economic trickle down of one of Byrd's "spearheaded federal projects."
"Many of our residents now have hope for a better and brighter future," Chapman said.
Other notables in attendance at the event included FCI-Gilmer Warden Bryan Bledsoe, U.S. Bureau of Prisons Director Harley Lappin, U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan and state Sens. Joe Minard and Bill Sharpe. The latter trio's districts each include Gilmer County. State Sen. Mike Ross, D-Randolph, and a number of federal judges and other officials were also present.
Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.