Republican candidate for governor Wyatt B. Durrette today blamed Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb for "mismanagement" of the state's troubled prison system in what was one of the first major GOP attacks on the popular Democrat.
Virtually ignoring Gerald L. Baliles, his Democratic opponent in the fall governor's race, Durrette aimed his strongest blows at Robb, who has spent much of the past year struggling with upheaval in the state's corrections system.
"You can't help but conclude the problems in corrections today are the direct result of the policies and philosophies of this administration," Durrette told reporters at a Richmond press conference.
It was the most direct attack yet against Robb by a Republican nominee for state office. Until today Republicans have shied away from direct criticisms of Robb, citing his acknowledged popularity among both Republicans and Democrats. Previously the most vocal Republican critic of Robb's prison policies had been former state attorney general J. Marshall Coleman of McLean, who lost his bid for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor earlier this summer.
"Because of policy confusion and mismanagement, corrections has come to be recognized as the 'weak link' in Virginia's state government," Durrette said.
Durrette went beyond this year's series of escapes and uprisings at the state's prisons to criticize the Robb administration's parole and prisoner release policies as too lenient.
That brought a strong counterattack from Robb spokesman George Stoddart.
"Once again Wyatt Durrette has failed to research his own record and this is another one of his flip-flops. He sponsored the most liberal parole reform resolution in the history of Virginia," Stoddart said.
Durrette sponsored a resolution in the state General Assembly in 1972 when he was a Fairfax County legislator that, in part, recommended eliminating a minimum parole eligibility date.
At today's press conference Durrette said the state should "look very seriously" at abolishing parole.
Durrette told reporters he has changed his position on parole policies because, "Parole has not been living up to the expectations we had 10 or 15 years ago."
The press conference was part of a statewide swing from Bristol in Southwestern Virginia to Norfolk in the Tidewater area to publicize Durrette's newest campaign position papers on corrections issues.
His opponent, Baliles, attempted to upstage Durrette at the Richmond stop by distributing press releases alleging that the Republican's proposals "have been an echo of the initiatives and progress made during the Robb administraton, and are in contrast to Mr. Durrette's own past legislative efforts to liberalize parole policies."
Durrette's recommendations today included pumping an extra $10 million to $15 million into the corrections department to upgrade the salaries and equipment of corrections personel.
He also said the state should consider building new prisons or renovating existing facilities to expand the prison population in an effort to reduce the backlog of convicted felons being held in local jails.