One out of every 10 persons in Powhatan County, a once rural county that has become a suburban bedroom to Richmond, is a state convict.
Many citizens of Powhatan think that ratio is absurdly and dangerously high. Led by their county administrator and some of their state representatives, a group from Powhatan came to the General Assembly today to plead their case.
What they wanted - and may get - was a ceiling on the number of inmates the state Department of Corrections could house in their county along the James River northwest of Richmond.
The ceiling of 1,550 inmates - about 550 more than are now in Powhatan - is set in a resolution being considered by the corrections subcommittee of the House of Delegates Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee.
Del. J. Samuel Glasscock (D-Suffolk), chairman of the subcommittee, said the measure will probably be adopted by the General Assembly. That is likely, Glascock said, because the Department of Corrections, in a move that surprised the Suffolk Democrat and other legislators, said today it has no objection to the resolution.
However, as Glsscock pointed out, a resolution does not have the force of law, so it is conceivable tht Powhatan could wind up with more than 1,550 inmates if the correction agency can't find any other jurisdiction that is suitable or would welcome them.
Powhatan, which has only about 10,000 residents despite a recent surge of suburban growth, become a prison center because the Department of Corrections has long owned a 2,600-acre farm there.
Although hardly any prison farming is done, the correction agency decided to use the land for another purpose - to house increasing numbers of inmates.
In fact, Powhatan, with only a fifth of one per cent of the state's population, has 14 per cent of its Corrections inmates, some housed in surplus trailers bolted to concrete bases.
Among the residents appearing before the House committee today was Daniel James, who said that when escapes occurred at Powhatan correctional facilities last year - there were 16 - guards stationed in his driveway and search helicopters droned over his rooftop. His house, he said, is across the road from the prison land.
Ann Hogg said that "90 per cent" of the felonies tried in Powhatan originate among the prison population. The local population, she said, is kept busy serving on juries for inmates' trials, which take place on prison grounds.
Mrs. Hogg said widows and other residents who are alone live in fear at night. "You know when there's an outbreak," she said. "There are the guards, the dogs and the "copters - and then you hole up until the inmates are caught."
Rejecting the argument that the prison facilities provide jobs (to fill guard positions primarily), Mrs. Hogg and other residents said their county had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state - 3.8 per cent.
While corrections subcommittee chairman Glasscock is sympathetic to their complaints, he said he wonders about the implications for the state.