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Prison to stay open

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Gwinnett's prison will remain open -- at least for now.

On Tuesday, commissioners rescinded an earlier decision that would have closed the prison by July 2011 and halted the work release program there in days.

But officials have until October to study the benefits of the prison, determine services and consider its benefits.

The prison and department of corrections are not required by law like the county's jail, where people are held prior to trials.

In place at least since before the Great Depression, the facility not only houses convicted inmates who often perform community service such as mowing and picking up litter on roadways and cleaning facilities, but also allows people delinquent on child support payments to continue to work and make those payments.

"That's a really important thing," said Commissioner Bert Nasuti, who asked that funds to continue operating the prison be a part of a tax increase voted on earlier this month. "I'm a big believer in the folks paying their debt to society working."

Officials slated the closure earlier this year, after determining that the county loses money operating the prison. But after judges and others decried the decision, commissioners said more study of the facility's benefits needed to be explored.

Warden David Peek said Tuesday's vote helps secure his employees' jobs for the time being.

"That's a positive step for us, but it's not the final step," he said, adding that so many people had already left their jobs that a reduction in force staffers slated for the end of the year was not necessary.

"There's a lot of questions to be answered," he said, adding that officials will study whether using inmate crews to clean buildings and perform other tasks will be cheaper than using vendors. "Maybe our best days are head of us instead of behind us. I'm very optimistic for the employees."