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January 3, 2011

Empty prison in Virginia a sign of new sentencing and prison times

This effective and lengthy local article, headlined "New $105M Va. prison remains empty," reflects some of the new sentencing and prison times that many states are experiencing as we start a new year.  Here are excerpts:

[F]our months after the Grayson County prison was completed at a cost of $105 million, it sits empty -- the consequence of a declining number of inmates statewide, and a reduction in state dollars to lock them up.

Having a new prison without prisoners is a striking turnabout for Virginia. The state's inmate population of about 38,000 has nearly doubled since 1994, when the General Assembly voted to abolish parole and to embark on a prison-building boom.  In the past two fiscal years, however, the number of inmates has declined for the first time in recent history, dropping by 2.8 percent.

At the same time, the ongoing fiscal crunch has forced the Virginia Department of Corrections to trim its $1 billion budget.  The state has eliminated nearly 2,500 prison beds in the past two years, in part by closing four correctional centers....

It's not unusual for states to shut older prisons as crime drops and public concern shifts to the troubled economy, said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a national group that promotes criminal justice reform.  "Corrections over the past 25 years has become an increasingly big component of state budgets, to the point that it's competing for funding with education and other core services," Mauer said. "And you can't have it both ways anymore."  What's more unusual, he said, is for a brand-new prison like the one in Grayson County to be mothballed....

[C]rime in Virginia is declining, a trend that began well before the three new prisons were ready to accept inmates. "Prior to 2002, historical trends showed growth," Larry Traylor, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections....  Arrest rates have since dropped, especially for violent crimes and drug offenses that in the past have driven inmate predictions upward.  "Forecasters across the country are monitoring trends to explain these unprecedented declines; however, they are not explained at this point," Traylor said....

Even with arrests down, correctional officials say they can always use more prison beds. "This is not a bed space problem. This is a money problem," Traylor said, when asked to respond to criticism that the prison system was overbuilt.  "Budget reductions have forced us to close facilities."...

At the direction of Gov. Bob McDonnell, corrections officials are putting more emphasis on programs to keep inmates from re-offending.  Although Virginia's recidivism rate is the sixth-lowest among 40 states for which data was most recently available, the current reduction in prison beds and funding is adding urgency to the effort.

The program -- run by a newly created coordinator and overseen by a council appointed by the governor -- will target inmates as soon as they enter prison and develop a detailed plan to assist their rehabilitation.  Such an idea might never have been broached 10 or 15 years ago -- much less by a Republican governor -- when the mood among politicians was to abolish parole, enact mandatory minimum sentences and vote for other punitive measures.

But with crime down and state dollars scarce, there seems to be a shift in philosophy when it comes to crime and punishment, said Del. Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke, who serves on the Virginia Crime Commission.  "I think we've come full circle, because it's obvious we've overbuilt ourselves with prisons," Ware said. "I think it's finally seeped in. I don't think people like to admit it politically, but the fact of the matter is that it's a lot cheaper to do prevention than it is to lock people up in the penitentiary."

Re-entry is not the only new idea being floated these days.  A state task force is looking for ways to cut down on the number of nonviolent felons sent to prison.  For years, drug dealers and thieves have far outnumbered killers and rapists in prison.

January 3, 2011 at 11:39 AM | Permalink


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I hear that California's prisons might be a little crowded...maybe Virginia could fill those cells after all, if it doesn't mind being paid in IOUs.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Jan 3, 2011 12:32:43 PM

Finally the "public sector" which makes laws and executes them, is thinking as the "private sector" regarding the use of "the public" as unpaid labor.

They don't pay us for the time we spend doing what used to be done by "the private sector": Standing in lines everywhere saves costs for the labor that would have needed to be hired to reduce or eliminate waiting. Filling all those forms when you buy something on the internet saves them so much money! Et Al.

It may be "the public's " role and duty, to reasonably labor for free to help the "public sector" , but it may be a labor of love when "the public" can be an alternative to jail, by taking care of the prisoner.

I think judges understand that if "the public" provides better services and security for these prisoners to be, it is better for the prisoner, and "the public" will love or like, to offer this service to "the public sector" and keep their loved ones out of jail.

The downside is for "the private sector" as jailing anyone, is a huge business.

I hope "the private sector" does not interfere with this very humane trend that has so many possibilities, if done right.

Posted by: Hector Figueroa Vincenty Esq. | Jan 3, 2011 4:40:42 PM

i think the big question is considering we are at a 60% low in crime ....what idiot ordered the bulding of this useless prison and WHOSE money did the 105 million come from?

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 3, 2011 5:23:13 PM

Todays prisons are full of former drug addicts. A lot of the crime we see is precipitated by addicts attempting to finance their habits.Of course they are also under the influence of narcotics, mentally impaired. Society's answer to this issue is to put them behind bars. The public pays when the crime is committed and also for the incarceration costs.I agree it is cheaper to pay for prevention or rehabilitaion than for prisons.
Addicts are victims of drug dealers. We are punishing the victims.They are sick.
There are waiting lists all across the country for addicts seeking treatment.
We need more treatment facilities and fewer prisons.

Posted by: S LaPorte | Dec 19, 2011 11:38:22 PM

I have a son in Nottingway Correctional Center. My son was sentenced to 29 years on a heresay conviction...please tell me how he deserves that much time...yes he was young and dumb...was into taking drugs which leads to selling them, but 29 years!!! what is it going to take to get him out of there, he has been in that hell hole for 14 years...I think he has time served...will anyone step up and help? his number is 1140967...he is diabetic and having alot of issues because of the poor diet...help, help, help...somonehs to want to step up and help all the young men and women in prison because of lenghty drug conviction. One non criminal court appointed Attorney can ruin your entire young life....this Attorney tried to postpone the Trial on the day of the Trial, with a jury seated, than told my son he had nothing to worry about!!!!! he is no longer an Attorney, so it saves other young people from his lack of knowledge as an Attorney, thank you Kathy newbraugh (304)366-3537

Posted by: Kathy Newbraugh | Nov 1, 2012 7:59:00 PM

My father is 62 he was given 12 years for attempted robbery and intent to rob with no evidence no witness!! The witness said he had never seen him before and the guys who were there he identified. My father is mentally challenged and has had several surgeries since being incarcerated including a triple bypass heart surgery. He lived in Brunswick County VA and they don't care about justice. We had a paid lawyer who told us we had nothing to worry about my father never had any priors.

Posted by: Watlington | Apr 22, 2014 1:05:57 PM

Alot of people are incarcerated for ridiculous amounts of time from judges who play god and abuse there authority costing us(public)money..there in debt because they need to clean up there system and the people that work for them..corrupt cops and judges, etc throwing time at human beings like animals.its all ok to say leave them in there never free them until its you dying behind those walls..its only a matter of time people before this state comes crumbling

Posted by: concerns | Feb 22, 2015 12:07:35 AM

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