"Doing time" in Virgnia is a double horror.
Whether a prisoner is confined for murder or a $10 bribe, the Old Dominion's brand of punishment forces most of the state's nearly 10,000 inmates to languish in decaying institutions.
What's worse, say many politicians, prison experts and the prisoners themselves, the system's rehabilitation programs are scanty or nonexistent.
"In Virginia, the ultimate is that you catch them," says Del. Frank Slayton (D-South Boston), an influential corrections figure in the legislature. "But where we really fail is in how we treat them afterward and in how they exit."
Several critics say a Dalton administration decision to push ahead this year with a major, $240 million building program is a tacit admission that prisons, not programs, are foremost in the state's thinking about corrections.
Dozens of inmates complained in interviews that they spend most of their time on jobs that subsidize the operations of the 6,500-employe prison system. The get little psychological counseling or suitable job training to help them make it on the outside, they said.
Even the director of Virginia's corrections department says rehabilitation has never adequately been tried or funded.
One inmate, arguring that the state's penal system produces the very people the state want to lock up, says it gets so bad simply marking time behind bars that prisoners "will fight over changing the TV channel."
Says another: "They rush you to go to work, they rush you to eat, they rush you to bed, but when it's time to go home, they don't rush you at all."
Here, both serious and petty, are some prisoners' experiences:
Bret Farnsworth, imprisoned for voluntary manslaughter after a bar-room brawl stabbing, asked to be sent to a particular work camp that he was told offered drug and alcohol abuse programs. But he learned after his arrival that such programs "hadn't existed there for years."
Ike Harding, a "three-time loser" who has spent nearly 12 years in prison on his latest robbery sentence says his certificate of graduation from the heavy equipment school at the State Farm is meaningless. He never learned to operate the machinery because most of it never worked.
Dennis Adams had served five years of a 20-year armed robbery sentence, his first offense, when he came up for parole last spring. He had studied offset printing in prison, taken a correspondence course in commerical art and had three written promises of jobs with architectural drafting firms.
"But they turned me down," says a bewildered Adams, who hopes the jobs will still be waiting for him later.
"What we're doing is so inconsistent with what we say we're doing -- re-integrating into society," says C. Hoy Steele, coordinator of the prison system's seven-member ombudsman program. "We simply lose sight of what institutions can do to people, and there can be a numbing effect on the staff." i
Virginia's inmates range in age from 16 to 81, but most are between the ages of 19 and 30. Two-thirds of the prisoners are black, and women inmates usually account for less than 300 of the total population. Roughly a third of all prisoners released come back.
More than 40 percent of the inmates are serving robbery and burglary sentences; nearly 15 percent are incarcerated for various degrees of murder and manslaughter; about 7 percent have been convicted for sexual assault.
Relying heavily, on cheap inmate labor to cut its own operating costs and subsidize the supply needs of other state agencies, the corrections department has thriving, self-supporting manufacturing and agricultural businesses.
The system's Industrial Enterprises section estimated it would hit the $7 million mark in 1979 in sales of license plates, office furniture, laundry services and other goods. Most of the food eaten by the staff and inmates -- at 78 cents a meal -- comes from one of the sections' two huge farming complexes.
In addition, the system's field units provide more than 1,000 inmates a day for roadbuilding and highway maintenance. Other inmates make clothes and shoes and do various "in-house" chores for the prison population.
Correction officials differ about how useful most of these prison jobs will be back on the streets.
"Most of these guys won't become farmers," says rehabilitation counselor George Mahaffey, who works at the James River Correctional Center on the State Farm.
He complains that should an inmate try to transfer to a prison where he can get printer's training, "That application will be considered in terms of the needs here, not what may be in the best interest of the inmate.
Del. Erwin (Shad) Solomon concurs. He chairs the Virginia Crime Commission's corrections subcommittee and is convinced the department "is still warehousing prisoners, just putting them where there are spaces instead of suitable programs." But Walter Riddle, who is superintendent at James River and oversees production at the State Farm, defends the agricultural jobs, saying they teach good work habits.
Though he has started a dental prothesis trainee program at the prison, Riddle says the farming atmosphere is "a lot more wholesome than the factory."
Turner Burton, general manager of the system's Industrial Enterprises, says his manufacturing jobs give inmates very real "practical experience." And he adds that prisons would be less secure if the inmates weren't kept busy.
Many inmates seem particularly bitters about having to do work that helps the prisons operate, and say they are discouraged from taking education classes that would interfere with production schedules.
"They'd rather teach us to make institutional clothes, so that when we don't make it on the outside we'll be of some use to them when we come back," complains one.
Corrections chief Terrell Don Hutto is given high marks for his interest in rehabilitation and his willingness to allow outside volunteers to supplement programs for inmates -- something that was "a no-no a few years ago," according to a counselor.
Outside help is especially needed for educational and vocational teaching. The Rehabilitative School Authority, a separate state agency, offers high school and college courses at the 11 major institutions and training in electronics, auto mechanics, masonry, plumbing and office work. The programs, however, vary from prison to prison and are sorely lacking at the field unit level.
Nor are volunteers always easy to recruit. The New Kent County work camp -- where one small recreational room serves 89 inmates and doubles as a library and weekend visitors' center -- is still trying to find someone to tutor inmates for their high school equivalency exam.
And volunteers usually aren't trained to handle the needs of more disturbed inmates. A prison ombusdsman, discussing a rapist's case, said the man "is one of the few who admits it. He wants to get help, and damn it, he just isn't getting it."
Pleasant C. Shileds, who heads the Parole Board, says inmates also aren't getting adequate supervision and job-hunting help when they get out. He says this is one reasons his board turns down more parole requests than it grants, with 1,600 inmates paroled in 1978 compared to 3,800 denials.
Work release programs are praised as the best way to help inmates make the adjustment outside -- yet the department has only slightly more than 200 prisoners in such arrangements.
"It's one thing to say to John Doe, "Hey, they're hiring on 14th Street,'" Shields says. "It's another to call the officer of a company or an employment agency and vouch for an inmate. "The average person who comes out of a prison can't present themselves to the best advantage, and finding a job is hard for everyone."
Still, it was Shield's board that turned down the inmate with the three job offers.
Carolton B. Bolton, director of the department's community and prevention services, says his 300 probation and parole officers have a manageable caseload of about 50 inmates each. He would like more job placement cooperation in the community, but complains many parolees "get jobs but won't work, or don't find jobs to their liking."
Slayton, however, says Bolton's office spends more time trying to find reasons to send people to prison than it does trying to help them stay out.
"When you read the damn files of the inmates who have had their probation or parole revoked," he says, "it's nauseating."