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Fairfax sheriff opposes Kaine's prison budget proposal

Anita Kumar

Here's another person that isn't all that fond of at least one aspect of Gov. Tim Kaine's recently introduced budget proposal.

Fairfax County Sheriff Stan G. Barry said the outgoing Democratic governor's plan to rent 1,000 prison beds to other states to raise money is unfair to local sheriffs who are left stuck housing hundreds of state inmates in already crowded local jails waiting to be moved. "I'm very concerned,'' he said. "We already have an additional burden."

The Department of Corrections, the largest agency in the state, with more than 10,000 employees, expects to make up for $20 million in budget cuts by taking in 1,000 inmates from Pennsylvania sometime before February.

Barry said he understands that the state needs the money, but he called Kaine's plan a "shell game'' because the state is simply shifting the burden to local governments. As of last week, he said, the Fairfax jail was housing 135 inmate for the state (out of a total of 1,300).

Last summer, Kaine (D) also proposed accepting out-of-state prisoners, but abruptly halted the plan when sheriffs from the state's most populous areas of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads objected. Virginia Beach Sheriff Paul J. Lanteigne sued the state.

Virginia pays sheriffs $14 a day to house each state inmate (though the actual cost can be as high as $125) while collecting much more from other states to house their prisoners. The agreement with Pennsylvania will bring in about $62 a day, according to Larry Traylor, a spokesman at the Department of Corrections.

Traylor said his department would probably have to lay off employees or close facilities if not for the out-of-state prisoners. "The current economic downturn has affected all of us and we continue to look for solutions that will benefit the Commonwealth,'' he said.

As of last week, the state was housing 309 inmates from Wyoming, the Virgin Islands and from Hawaii, Traylor said. Virginia houses a total of 31,000 inmates at 44 facilities.

Traylor said he's unaware of any specific concerns by local or regional jails, and that the overall number of state inmates at local jails have been reduced by almost 500 since May 2008. He said about 230 state inmates have actually been transferred back to local jails to rent out otherwise empty beds.

Virginia began housing inmates from other states in 1998 after the state built and expanded a dozen prisons after abolishing parole and enacting longer sentences for certain crimes.

Many human rights groups oppose the practice, arguing that the inmates suffer from a loss of training, rehabilitation and contact with family and friends. They also caution that moving offenders to a prison with new rules and with different types of inmates can lead to violence, as shown by riots in other prisons across the nation after out-of-state prisoners moved in.

Virginia largely abandoned the practice in 2004, saying the space was needed for a growing inmate population, several years after two Connecticut inmates died and human rights groups lodged complaints of excessive force.

Sheriffs have complained for at least three decades about the large number of state inmates in local jails, which are supposed to house defendants awaiting trial and those sentenced for minor crimes. They argue that the more dangerous inmates further crowd their jails and that the jails provide less access to rehabilitative and educational services.

Many sheriffs, including in Fairfax and Arlington counties, have sued the state to force officials to act. State law requires that felons sentenced to at least one year behind bars get transferred from local jails to state prisons within 60 days.

Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell (R) outright opposes Kaine's proposed tax increase, but he declined to take a position on most of the governor's proposed budget cuts and other revenues sources except to criticize trims to local law enforcement.

Under Kaine's budget, sheriffs and local constitutional officiers will lose $270.5 million over the two years and local police will lose $73 million over two years. For our latest take on the budget, click here.

By Anita Kumar  |  December 29, 2009; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar , Robert F. McDonnell , Timothy M. Kaine  
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I want to hear a plan from McDonnell. So far, nothing.

Posted by: jckdoors | December 29, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

If he feels so strongly about this, he will resign in protest.

Posted by: cr10 | December 29, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

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