- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 11, 2002

Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner is looking for a prison boss who won't scare off out-of-state business.

Because the Democratic governor is challenged with a $3.8 billion budget shortfall, "he can't afford to lose out-of-state prisoners," said Mr. Warner's spokeswoman, Ellen Qualls.

Corrections chief Ronald J. Angelone, whose stern approach to running the state's jails earned Virginia a reputation as a tough place to do time, submitted his resignation Monday.

Although Mr. Warner has declined to comment on Mr. Angelone's departure, officials in his office said it will be "important to find a [new] prison director who welcomes scrutiny" on how out-of-state inmates are housed and guarded.

Mr. Angelone has supporters in high places who don't think much of Mr. Warner's search for a new chief with a different philosophy about prisons at the corrections department.

"Prisons are prisons, and we don't think they are supposed to be college campuses and country clubs, because security is number one," said Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, who appointed Mr. Angelone in 1994, when Mr. Allen was governor.

Mr. Angelone, 54, has been praised for "cleaning up" the state's prison system after more than a decade of internal problems, including the worst death-row escape in U.S. history, when six condemned men fled the Mecklenburg Correctional Center in 1984.

"He implemented common-sense prison policies that separated out violent predators, reduced Virginia's escape rate to the lowest or near the lowest in the nation, and dramatically reduced inmate assaults on guards and other inmates," the senator said.

"Angelone's management style sent a message to the inmates that there are consequences for bad behavior," said Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, a Republican. "There have been allegations of prisoner-rights violations, but in investigation after investigation from Connecticut and some of the other states that have had inmates here, they've failed to prove rights violations."

At one point in 2000, Connecticut lawmakers had pushed to withdraw inmates from Virginia prisons after two died under questionable circumstances. Both men died at Wallens Ridge, a "supermaximum security" penitentiary in Big Stone Gap, Va.

One of the inmates died of heart failure after he was strapped down and repeatedly shocked by guards with a stun gun. The other, suffering from mental illness, had only months remaining on his sentence when he hanged himself.

"Virginia has a budget problem right now and empty prison cells it cannot fill with prisoners from out of state because of Angelone's reputation for treating prisoners so harshly," said Kent Willis, the executive director of the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "The way to fill those cells and to help reduce the budget deficit is to bring in a new head of corrections."

In a letter of resignation to Mr. Warner, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, Mr. Angelone lists among his accomplishments a consistent ability to fill surplus bed space in Virginia prisons with inmates from other states.

"Over the past four years, nine different states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons have housed their inmates in Virginia, generating $314 million in gross revenue as well as funding more than 1,000 positions," the letter states. "In addition, more than $44 million has been turned over to the General Fund."

Mr. Angelone had expressed a desire to be reappointed by the Democratic governor. But after waiting three months "and not having been offered the appointment to the position, nor an opportunity to sit down and speak with you, I can only conclude that an offer will not be forthcoming," he wrote in his resignation letter.

Mr. Angelone, who has declined to be interviewed, was Nevada's top prison official before being appointed by Mr. Allen to head up a get-tough-on-crime agenda, which included ending parole.

Virginia spent $737 million opening 12 new prisons during the 1990s, doubling the number of beds to nearly 32,000. But prison populations haven't grown as much as officials Mr. Angelone among them projected, prompting the state to make deals with other states to fill and pay for thousands of otherwise-empty beds.

Mr. Angelone contracted deals worth about $77 million a year with other states and federal officials to fill nearly 3,300 prison beds. Connecticut alone pays more than $12 million annually, renting space for 500 inmates at the Greenville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Va.

Delegate Dwight Clinton Jones, a Richmond Democrat and member of the state's Legislative Black Caucus, said Mr. Angelone "represents a breed of corrections philosophy that does not sit well with a lot of people."

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