GOV. ROBB'S DIRECTOR of prisons has quit, and though that may present the governor with a temporary personnel problem, the departure of Raymond Procunier does not in itself mark a major dispute over correctional policy. Mr. Procunier is gone, but the hard questions remain: whether to build more prisons, try other solutions, do both or do nothing. On these matters, there may not have been much difference between the views of the director and the governor. They both have demonstrated an enlightened approach.
Mr. Procunier made it clear he was unhappy about orders from Gov. Robb's secretary of public safety, Frank White, to submit specific proposals from each of Virginia's prison wardens for maintaining prison budgets at the same level for the next two years that they have been at for the past two. That, in real terms, is a cut, and the director adamantly refused. According to the governor, this was not the first occasion on which Mr. Procunier has protested his policies. But in a contest of this kind between a governor and an agency head, there is no question of who's in charge.
The harder question, from one session of the Virginia legislature to another and from one state to another, is what politicians are prepared to do about--and spend on--prisons and other correctional programs. Prisons are jammed, and even with sensible policies to release those who are incarcerated for minor, nonviolent crimes, more facilities are needed. But even when that is agreed to, who welcomes a new prison in city, town or neighborhood?
Gov. Robb's counterpart in Maryland, Gov. Hughes, has grappled with these same questions and there, too, it is a search for understanding, compromise and the necessary political courage among state lawmakers to take thoughtful, constructive actions. Until there is more concern from the public, this will continue to be a tall order.