Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Worsening Crisis In Virginia Prisons?

Augusta Correctional Center
Early this year the Augusta Correctional Center at nearby Craigsville was forced to double bunk to make room for some 250 additional men being transferred there from the aging Powhatan Correctional Center, which was being shut down. The Craigsville facility, already at more than capacity, has struggled to keep enough correctional officers hired and trained to provide for its security needs.

One of the other factors that contributes to a worsening security problem in Virginia's correctional system is that there is virtually no reward for any kind of "correction" demonstrated by inmates. In other words, there is no hope of early release for most of the 31,000 in prison since parole was abolished in 1995. Even for those who are still eligible for early release under the "old law" (the 4000 plus inmates incarcerated before 1995, who have been behind bars for 20-50 years) the parole grant rate is at its lowest point ever in Virginia, currently at under 3%.

All of this means incentives for good behavior are greatly reduced, and gang activity and a rapid turnover of correctional officers makes maintaining adequate security and good prison morale an ever more serious challenge.

Here are two other examples of policies that affect prison morale and security:

1) Hourly "pay" for work inside prisons has remained at only 27-45 cents an hour for for decades, and from 55-80 cents for those working in one of the many Virginia Corrections Enterprises--even though their slave labor brought in a total of $54,680,835 in income for the Department of Corrections in 2013. Meanwhile, charges for canteen items continue to rise, and the costs of postage and phone calls have also gone up significantly.

2) Treatment for mentally ill and emotionally distressed inmates is either unavailable or is woefully inadequate. The Marion Correctional Center in southwest Virginia, specifically designed for the estimated 40% of offenders suffering from mental health disorders, has beds for only 300 inmates, less than 1% of the Commonwealth's total number of detainees. While Marion has a staff of over 200 employees and a per inmate cost of well over $80,000 annually, the Buckingham Correctional Center, by comparison, is overcrowded with 1,154 residents and has only 396 employees and a budget of just over $25,000 per year per inmate.

All across Virginia, legislators and ordinary citizens alike are beginning to realize that our present criminal justice system, which has incarcerated six times the number of inmates we housed in the commonwealth just 25 years ago, is broken and in need of a serious overhaul.  Either we continue with the status quo, or we provide national leadership in reversing the pattern of incarcerating citizens at more than five times the average rate of that of the rest of the world.

Across the US, in red states as conservative as Texas and Georgia, legislators are trending toward more effective ways of reducing crime and dealing with offenders.

Here's a link to more posts on prison and parole reform.
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