A proposal to bring Virginia’s only privately operated prison under state management failed in the General Assembly on Friday when it was voted down by members of the Senate’s Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee.
The decision means GEO Group, a publicly-traded corporation based in Florida, will likely continue to oversee the Lawrenceville Correctional Center in Brunswick County, where advocates and some lawmakers worried persistent staffing shortages have jeopardized inmate safety.
“They do not hold up their end of the contract as far as medical, dental,” said Franchesca Hylton, who told lawmakers during a hearing on the legislation that her husband is an inmate at the facility and was not getting the proper care for his heart condition. “There’s a lot of stuff going on at that facility that shouldn’t be.”
The company has been fined at least $700,000 by the Virginia Department of Corrections since 2018 for failing to maintain contractually agreed upon staffing levels, according to department records.
Some lawmakers on the panel who opposed the measure said they recognized there have been problems at the facility, but questioned whether the Department of Corrections would do a better job managing it than GEO, noting that the state itself contracts out medical care in many facilities, an arrangement that in one facility has led to ongoing oversight by a federal judge following a string of inmate deaths.
“The Department of Corrections did not come out of the pandemic looking rosy, from what I heard,” said Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, one of five Democrats who joined the legislative panel’s six GOP members in opposing the measure.
Morrissey noted that the legislation would continue to allow the department to outsource inmate medical care and other prison services like phone systems and commissaries.
Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, said that if the state thinks GEO is understaffing the facility, it should change its contract with the company.
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