View Full Version : "minimum-security Prisons Bulging"

04-17-2004, 07:44 AM
Crowding at the Botetourt Correctional Unit and other low- to
medium-security facilities is the reason Virginia wants new prisons.

By Laurence Hammack Roanoke Times 11April04

"TROUTVILLE - J.D. Terry signals a guard, and the door swings open to a room
the size of a basketball court that is the communal bedroom, living room and
bathroom for nearly 100 men.

Four rows of bunk beds fill most of the floor space. At one end of the room
are four showers, four sinks, three toilets and two urinals. At the other
end is one television set.

Into this cage-like dormitory, the state has crammed 88 convicted felons.

"I can't stick any more people in here," said Terry, superintendent of the
Botetourt Correctional Unit.

The minimum-security prison, built for 288 inmates, routinely holds its
maximum capacity of 352. With 16 extra beds in each of four dorms, the
prison is not exactly bursting at the seams. But it is bulging.

"We've added and added and added until we can't add anymore," Terry said.

Crowding at Botetourt and other low- to medium-security facilities is the
reason the Virginia Department of Corrections wants to build one, and
possibly two, new prisons in Western Virginia.

Although details remain obscured by the General Assembly's failure to pass a
budget, the Senate has proposed two medium-security prisons in Tazewell and Pittsylvania counties at a cost of $142 million. The House budget includes
money for just one prison and does not designate a location.

Last month, as budget deliberations were heating up, a prominent legislator
warned that failure to address prison overcrowding could lead to an inmate
riot like the 1971 Attica prison uprising in upstate New York that left 43
people dead.

"We are on the verge of an Attica-type situation in this state," said Sen.
John Chichester, R-Stafford County.

Corrections officials say that while the prison system is exceeding capacity
by about 63 percent, there is no basis for Chichester's fears. The current
population of about 31,000 is "manageable," according to Deputy Secretary of
Public Safety Barry Green. But a projected increase to 45,000 by the end of
the decade shows the need for additional prison space, Green said.

At Botetourt, Terry said crowding has not created the kind of disturbances
that might foreshadow another Attica.

"I don't know where he's getting that from," Terry said of Chichester's
remark. "To make that kind of statement you need to validate it. I don't
know how you can validate that."

Although the occasional fistfight breaks out in the dorms, Terry attributes
that more to human nature than overcrowding.

However, one of the superintendent's biggest concerns is that he's been
forced to put bunk beds in the middle of the room where there used to be
single beds, blocking visibility from a guard's station next to the dorm's
main entrance.

At the same time, staff cutbacks have cost him a psychiatrist, and the three
guard towers that surround the prison are no longer staffed. Two of the
towers are outfitted with surveillance cameras, though, and Terry said he
has not had an escape attempt since the towers have gone unmanned.

The Botetourt prison, which seemed calmer than a typical high school during
a tour last week, holds mostly nonviolent offenders who have 24 months or
less to serve. A therapeutic community approach is aimed at addressing
inmates' drug problems. Out of the staff of 125, a dozen are social workers.

As Terry passed one of the prison's few solitary - confinement cells, he
peered through a small window in the door and asked what the man inside had
done. He refused to shave for several days in a row, a guard responded.

That's grounds for a transfer to a higher-level prison, Terry said. If a
prisoner continues to act up, he could find himself somewhere like Red Onion
State Prison, the state's supermax prison where inmates with long sentences
and disciplinary records are held under extremely tight security.

Red Onion and other high-security prisons provide what Terry calls the "hard
beds." While there may be room at those prisons, "we don't have enough soft
beds" like the ones at Botetourt, Terry said.

"As long as there's no parole, and as long as the judges sentence people,
there's going to be an increase in the number of inmates," he said. "That's
just a fact of life."

After abolishing parole in 1995, Virginia opened six new prisons and
expanded two more to accommodate an influx of inmates that proved smaller
than expected. It soon became clear there were not enough hard-core inmates to fill prisons such as Red Onion, and a systemwide surplus of beds led the state to close a prison in Staunton and rent out more than 4,000 beds to other states.

"And now we're back to saying we need new prisons," said Keith DeBlasio, the
legislative liaison for Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants.
The group says that instead of building more prisons to hold drug dealers
and other nonviolent criminals, the state should send more offenders through
diversion programs such as drug courts, work release and community-based

"It doesn't make sense to have completely nonviolent offenders who are not a
risk to anyone incarcerated, when they could be contributing to the economic
base and the tax base in the community," DeBlasio said.

In a report earlier this year to the House Appropriations Committee, Green
outlined two reasons why the state's prison population is growing while
crime is declining:

The average prison sentence has gone from 36 months in 1995, the year parole was abolished, to 43 months in 2002.

The number of people being sent back to prison on probation violations has
increased. In 2002, probationers who had gotten in trouble again accounted
for nearly half of the 10,751 prison commitments. Of those, 1,551 did not
commit a new crime but were sent back to prison on a technical violation,
such as missing a meeting with a probation officer.

As prison admissions have increased, more and more state inmates are being
backlogged in local jails. Nearly 5,000 state inmates are waiting in jails
to enter the system, which will gain additional beds later this year when
Virginia ends its contract to hold inmates from Connecticut and Vermont.

Even if funding is approved for new prisons, Terry does not expect an
immediate solution to the crowding that has been getting steadily worse.

When the Botetourt prison opened in 1962 as a camp for convict highway crews - with the name "Camp 25" that many local residents still use today - it
held 45 inmates. Last Wednesday, as Terry walked through a facility that
still has some of its original buildings, the head count was 341."

FYI for those in the Virginia system.


chris's mom
04-20-2004, 02:39 PM
thanks for the article i will print it for chris maybe someone will get attention with this people other than families are aware of the overcrowding in the prisons i keep praying that something will happen