But as the town prepared for its 200th anniversary in February, it was blindsided by news the state planned to shutter the prison, which houses about 730 inmates.
Boydton ultimately will lose 20 percent of its annual budget — revenue that comes from providing sewer services to the prison — and the area is poised to lose 300 jobs. Officials fear they will have to lay off most of the town’s workers, including its only police officer; triple some water rates; and cut back on trash pickups. More than $1.5 million in grants are in jeopardy. If the town does not get help from the state, it could go bankrupt and be dissolved.
Boydton’s bicentennial could turn into its wake.
“They call Boydton a little Mayberry – and that’s what it is,” said Alan Panther, who has lived in the town of about 480 all his life and works at the prison. “We were really trying to make a comeback. All that work is going to go down the drain.”
The story of Boydton is playing out in small towns across Virginia and around the nation. Many depressed rural communities welcomed prisons in recent decades as sources of jobs and revenue — The Post dubbed it “salvation through incarceration.”
But budget woes and moves to jail fewer nonviolent offenders are leading states to mothball dozens of correctional facilities — an unexpected blow for communities already suffering from the recession. In 2o10, the overall U.S. prison population declined for the first time in four decades to 1.6 million and at least 13 states closed prisons. Virginia alone has closed 10, in addition to Mecklenburg, since 2009.
Many in towns that saw factories go overseas and farms wither never imagined a prison could disappear too. The jobs were supposed to be recession proof. After all, it was government work and there was always more bad guys to lock up. They built their lives and communities around that belief.
Now they are watching their last economic lifelines go away and wondering: How will we survive?
‘You could hear a pin drop’
Two weeks before Christmas, word spread among the tightknit group of prison workers that there would be an emergency meeting. About 100 correctional officers and other employees filed into the prisoners’ visiting room the night of Dec. 12 with no idea what was to come.
“ ‘I’m going to cut right to the chase. Because of cutbacks we are closing the facility,’ ” Panther recalled a state corrections official announcing. “It was a shock. You could hear a pin drop in the room.”
The prison sits on a bluff, a short drive and a world away from Boydton’s picturesque downtown with its quaint storefronts and whitewashed, 1830s courthouse.