- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2002

Virginia, already in the midst of a severe budget shortfall, is expected to lose another $46 million annually with the U.S. government's decision to remove its prisoners from the state system and relocate them to federal facilities.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons announced this month it was not going to renew its contract at the two remaining facilities the state was housing inmates: Greensville Correctional Facility near Emporia and the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women outside of Charlottesville.

The Bureau of Prisons has been using several Virginia facilities for about two years and at one time had on average 2,455 prisoners in the system, a bureau spokeswoman said.

"We now have the bed space to absorb the remaining prisoners," said Traci Billingsley. "They could go to any of the 102 facilities we have around the country. We just try to place them within 500 miles of their release residence."

Virginia has reaped millions of dollars by housing federal and out-of-state prisoners, charging up to $75 a day per inmate. The move is another budgetary blow to Virginia officials announced last week the state general fund income for the year ending June 30 finished $236.8 million below revenue forecasts.

Gov. Mark R. Warner, in anticipation of the shortfall in the state prison system, appointed a seven-member panel last week to produce specific recommendations by the end of September.

"Virginia's revenue from housing inmates from other states and the federal government is declining at a time when we can ill afford that revenue loss," Mr. Warner, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Barry Green, the state's deputy secretary of public safety, said cutbacks are inevitable.

"[Well have to] make budget cuts within the Department of Corrections that basically is it," said Mr. Green, whose boss, Secretary of Public Safety John W. Marshall, will oversee the commission. "We'll need to get an understanding of the needs, and then address them through cuts."

State officials knew the federal government was considering the move, Mr. Green said, but had hoped they would reach an agreement to allow some prisoners to remain in Virginia for an extended period of time.

"We had expected that contracts would have been extended, and we tried to get it resolved," Mr. Green said. "But they have their own facilities. We thought some were a mismatch, but they changed some classifications."

Mrs. Billingsley said the federal government never intended to keep the prisoners in Virginia's system after the current contracts expire. Prisoners at Greensville will have to be relocated by Sept. 30, when the contract ends. At Fluvanna, the contract expires Oct. 5.

The government started using Virginia's facilities because the need for inmate housing had increased at a rate quicker than the ability to construct facilities, officials said. And when the Lorton Correctional Facility in Fairfax County closed last fall, the D.C. inmates it housed were absorbed into the federal system, creating an overflow that the federal system was not able to accommodate.

Virginia has excess cell space available because of poor forecasting, state and federal officials say. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Virginia leaders predicted an increase in crime and a need for prison space that never materialized. As a result, there are enough vacancies in the system to fill up two prisons.

"I could fill 1,000 beds right now in Greensville and another 228 in Fluvanna," said Russell Boraas, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections. "Anyone who has inmates they want or need housed should give me a call. I am dead serious about that."

Virginia currently has 500 inmates from Connecticut, 381 from Vermont, 21 from New Mexico, 16 from the U.S. Virgin Islands and three from Hawaii. Other than Vermont, which recently asked other states to offer housing proposals in an effort to curb expenses, Virginia does not expect to lose any of the other state's prisoners.

"Those numbers will all stay about the same as these states need assistance, especially with the tougher [criminals]," Mr. Boraas said.

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