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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Packing More Inmates Into Bathroom-Size Cages

Charles Zellers Sr.'s 7x12 single cell, now double-bunked as a part of a plan to house extra prisoners
Virginia's prison system is in crisis. With state budget shortfalls contributing to increased pressures to make cuts wherever possible, prisons, as always, are seen as the most politically safe places to reduce costs.

As one budget cutting measure, the aging Powhatan prison at State Farm, Virginia, built in 1926, has been the first to be shut down except for a small number of inmates left there to operate its print shop and milk plant. At least 120 from that facility were recently moved to Buckingham Correctional Center, built for 640, but now, with the latest influx of new prisoners, filled to nearly twice that number. I've heard from another inmate that 130 men have been moved to the Augusta Correctional Center, which is also at double its design capacity.

As prisons become more crowded and understaffed, I hear  reports of increased stress, more gang activity and a significant drop in morale. All of this is made worse by smaller food portions, inmates sometimes being given used clothes and towels, and being charged increased fees for medical and dental services that were once paid by the state. While there are now fewer jobs available (typically at 27¢ an hour), inmates are no longer even provided the usual weekly bar of prison manufactured soap, which they now must purchase at the commissary.

Mr. Zellers, who provided me with the above sketch of his 7' x 12' cell, had for the past 18 years earned a cell to himself for being a model prisoner, but he must now share his bathroom-size space with a cellmate. Originally all Buckingham cells were designed to house only one person, but as is the case in other Virginia prisons, that has not been possible for some time.

The American Correctional Association states that there must be 35 square foot of unencumbered space per single cell occupant, and when confinement exceeds more than ten hours a day, that number must be 80 square feet. And when there are two or more in the same cell, there are to be 25 square feet of space per inmate.

As can be seen from the above diagram, Zellers' cell offers only about 29 square feet of open space, or 14.5' per person.

The next time you go into your bathroom, visualize having to spend a major portion of your time in that kind of close confinement every day--and for years on end. Then try to imagine being denied parole year after year in spite of putting every effort possible to earn an early release, something you were assured you would get if you entered a plea agreement and demonstrated good behavior while incarcerated.

According to Zellers' most recent letter, "Parole turn downs have been pouring in for the past week. Haven't heard of anyone being granted parole yet. Discretionary parole release is a joke and so is geriatric release, both done by the same corrupt Parole Board."

Click here for more posts on our broken criminal justice system.
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