Virginia to close four prisons and take control of Lawrenceville
Virginia has raised starting pay for correctional officers to $44,000 a year and has advertised extensively, but it’s still short about 16-hundred guards – a situation that puts them and their prisoners in danger. At the Human Rights Defense Center in Florida, director Paul Wright says we shouldn’t be surprised.
“In the 1990’s the United States embarked on a massive prison-building binge. We built over 1,500 medium and maximum security prisons, and for the most part in rural areas populated by white people," he explains. "Decades later, as these communities have continued to die, they can’t staff them.”
Since 2014, the prison population has dropped by more than 5,000, and the state faces millions of dollars in costs to air condition and repair aging buildings. The agency already spends more than a billion dollars a year, but Director Chad Dotson plans to make a major change this summer, closing the Augusta Correctional Center, Sussex II, Haynesville’s Unit 17 and the Stafford Community Corrections Program. Virginia will also resume control of the state’s only privately operated prison – Lawrenceville – plagued by gang violence and drug abuse that have killed or injured more than a dozen people over the last three years.
This woman, who asked that we not use her name, was distraught when her husband had to be hospitalized after a brawl at Lawrenceville.
“I am an absolute mess. I’m not going to lie. He’s my rock," she told us in 2021. "He’s everything to me, and I’ve been afraid something like this would happen. He even had a talk with me last week. He said, ‘If something happens in here, because of how crazy things are getting, I need your permission to defend myself,’ and I said, ‘Of course, I need you walking out of there on your release date and not in a body bag.”
The state had paid the GEO Group $50 a day per inmate to manage the prison. Its employees will now be invited to apply for positions as correctional officers, and officials say they’ll find jobs for employees of prisons being closed.