Senator pushing to end a “prison for profit” in Virginia

Virginia News

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The Lawrenceville Correctional Center in Brunswick County is the only privately run prison in Virginia; however, a state lawmaker wants to prohibit privately run prisons in the Commonwealth.

State Senator Adam Ebbin, a Democrat from Alexandria, said they have one motive and that’s to make money, so they cut corners. Ebbin says that puts all of us in danger and does little to help offenders reenter society.

“We don’t need prisons for profit, we need prisons for rehabilitation,” he said.

Ebbin is planning to re-introduce legislation that would essentially end private prisons in Virginia and cut ties with the GEO Group, Inc which currently operates Lawrenceville — and his efforts are gaining ground.

“GEO is not a very popular employer,” said John Horejsi, founder of SALT, Social Action Linking Together. The group advocates justice for the poor and powerless and says conditions inside Lawrenceville are dangerous.

“The staffing is insufficient,” Horejsi said.

He and others say conditions are inhumane. SALT member Chuck Meire has conducted case studies with offenders and families. Meire says when an inmate lost his filling in his tooth and was in excruciating pain, he waited six months to see a dentist.

“The majority of that wait was simply because the GEO Group didn’t have a dentist on staff,” he said.

Another inmate with a heart condition lost care when he was moved to Lawrenceville, even though it was mandated by the state.

“When he transferred to Lawrenceville in 2016, he didn’t get access to a cardiologist for 4 years,” Meire said.

GEO Group is paid per inmate, some say providing an incentive to keep the prison packed.

SALT also argues to make the most profit they cut corners by lowering operating costs and hiring and training fewer employees.

“Lawrenceville compared to comparable state-run facilities has about 100 fewer guards on staff,” said Meire.

A recent Virginia Department of Corrections report commissioned by the General Assembly found not only does the prison have fewer guards than others in the state, but those guards are also paid less and sometimes work more, putting security at risk.

“They’re having to work 16 and 18 hour shifts,” Horejsi said.

In a statement Christopher Feerreira, a spokesman for GEO Group said:

For nearly two decades, we have safely and securely managed the Lawrenceville Correctional Center as a long-standing partner to the Virginia Department of Corrections. As an essential government services provider, our front-line employees strive daily to deliver high-quality services to those entrusted to our care. Staffing challenges are not unique in the correctional space and while we work with our government partners to ensure adequate staffing levels, our contacts provide for the appropriate amount of staff to safely and securely manage the Center. Due to the pandemic, many correctional settings are currently facing challenges recruiting and hiring qualified applicants.

The Lawrenceville Correctional Center is also accredited by the American Correctional Association and is subject to oversight by an on-site contract monitor with the Virginia Department of Corrections, as well as routine client audits, third-party audits, and audits by GEO’s independent Contract Compliance division.

Furthermore, we would note that in the most recent round of testing at the Lawrenceville Correctional Center, no GEO staff tested positive for COVID-19. For COVID-19 information related to inmates at the Lawrenceville Correctional Center, we would refer you to the Virginia Department of Corrections.”

CHRISTOPHER FEERREIRA, A SPOKESMAN FOR GEO GROUP

However, Senator Ebbin disagrees.

“Lawrenceville’s ratio of inmates is 40% higher than the Department of Corrections requirements for their own facilities,” Ebbin said.

He also noted that report also found an excess of $10 million in deferred maintenance work at the facility. Over the summer, our sister-station WRIC reported on flooding and water outages at the prison. It was the result of some leaky pipes.

“In July of this year water was cut off to inmates for 4 days in some units due to pipe leaks,” Ebbin said.

Meantime some worry, ending the contract with GEO Group could put people out of work. Yet, lawmakers like Delegate Kaye Kory a Democrat from Fairfax County say it could actually create more jobs.

“They would hire and train more correctional officers,” Kory said. She also said she has her own plans for legislation to that would aim to change state code and ultimately treat and pay corrections officers around the state better.

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