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Posted at 2:54 PM ET, 01/ 3/2011

More Va. inmates destined for local jails

By Elizabeth Flock

Facing a budget reduction of $10.9 million for FY 2012, the Virginia Department of Corrections has found one way to cut costs: by keeping inmates destined for state prison in local jails.

Larry Traylor, director of communications for the state Department of Correctionssaid, "We've been keeping inmates in local jails longer rather than absorbing them into the system, which has been positive for both us and the jails. The jails make money from it and we get to keep the bedspace."

Traylor said this is just one option the agency is looking at to cut costs, after having to eliminate nearly 2,500 prison beds last year. Other options include shuttering older prisons and extending contracts under which out-of-state prisoners are housed in Virginia.

Anthony S. Barkow, executive director of the Center of the Administration of Criminal Law at New York University, said keeping inmates in local jails can be positive not just for the state of Virginia, but also its inmates.

"Inmates do better in local jails closer to home than in prisons far away," Barkow said. "They have a social/support network so when they reenter, they're more likely to find jobs, have a safe place to live, people to turn to. If they are sent far away, they lose their connections to loved ones, so any reason they might have had to stay straight on release dissipates."

State prisons are also often more crowded than local jails, and have a higher prevalence of institutional issues such as rapes among prisoners. These can produce a feeling of hopelessness among inmates, Barkow said.

The state of Virginia currently has 38,000 inmates.

By Elizabeth Flock  | January 3, 2011; 2:54 PM ET
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