Kaine Halts Housing of Out-of-State Prisoners

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) reversed his position after protests from state sheriffs.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) reversed his position after protests from state sheriffs. (By Bob Brown -- Associated Press)
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By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 19, 2008

RICHMOND, June 18 -- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has ordered the Department of Corrections to halt plans to rent prison beds to other states to house their inmates after sheriffs across Virginia lodged complaints about the moneymaking venture.

The decision to accept out-of-state inmates had angered sheriffs, especially those from the populous areas of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, whose crowded local jails hold hundreds of inmates awaiting beds at state-run prisons.

David Fathi, director of the U.S. program at Human Rights Watch, who has monitored the Virginia prison system, called the decision "good for everyone concerned" including "Virginia prisoners who won't be packed in local jails" not equipped to hold them long-term.

Kaine (D) had stood by the policy in recent weeks but reversed course after The Washington Post reported that some sheriffs and human rights advocates had safety and other concerns.

Fairfax County Sheriff Stan G. Barry had considered joining a lawsuit filed by the Virginia Beach sheriff over the state's policy but said all 80 state inmates were removed from his jail days after his complaint was made public.

"The governor did not realize the magnitude of the problem," Barry said.

Kaine wrote a letter Tuesday to the Virginia Sheriffs' Association and Virginia Association of Regional Jails to tell them the state would no longer seek out-of-state inmates to offset millions of dollars in budget cuts.

Virginia will keep the 300 inmates from Wyoming who are at the Pocahontas State Correctional Center and the Wallens Ridge State Prison, both in the southwest part of the state. The number of inmates from Wyoming might increase, but no additional inmates from other states will be accepted.

"I am sensitive to and will attempt to remedy the concerns that I have received from some jails," Kaine wrote.

That decision leaves the Department of Corrections with no plan to make up $24 million in budgets cuts caused by a sluggish economy that affects all state agencies.

Gene M. Johnson, director of the corrections department, said he might lay off employees or close facilities. Already, the opening of an 800-bed wing at St. Brides Correctional Center in Chesapeake is on hold.

The Department of Corrections, the state's largest agency, with 13,000 employees, had expected to make up for at least $38 million in cuts by renting out 1,000 beds. It still expects to receive about $14 million from Wyoming in two years.

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