Shining a Light on VA's Death Row

Mar 18, 2015

This week civic groups and nonprofits are taking a closer look at the importance of open government and freedom of information for Sunshine week.  

Sunshine is absent in the death chambers of Virginia, where the public has no access to basic information about how inmates are killed. Policies and procedures outlining the process are concealed from view. Training manuals are closely guarded. Even specific details about how executions are carried out are kept secret. 

"I'm not clear what there is to hide here."

Of nearly 780 detainees brought to a military prison at Guantanamo Bay, most have been sent back to their countries without charges being filed.  Nine died in detention.  After 5 Yemeni prisoners were released to Estonia and Oman yesterday, 122 now remain, and more than half could be released if the Obama administration finds a country that will take them.  Sandy Hausman spoke with Michael Lehnert, a retired Marine General who served for many years in Virginia before building the prison at GTMO.

There are about 30,000 Virginians in state prisons, and Virginia spends more than $25,000 a year to house each of them, making the Department of Corrections the most expensive agency in Richmond, with a billion dollar annual budget.

It spends $160 million on healthcare, but critics say that care is inadequate, and some inmates could be dying for lack of medical attention.  Another 30,000 people are locked up in city or county jails, and as we'll hear throughout this series, their care is also questionable.

The state of Virginia spends an average of $5,300 a year per inmate for medical care in prisons, and that cost has been rising 5-7 percent per year, but  taxpayers may not be getting their money’s worth, and people locked up for minor crimes could be paying with their lives.

Crisis in Correctional Care: Mental Illness

Apr 8, 2014

Fifty years ago, this country began closing mental hospitals where people with psychiatric disorders were often warehoused.  The idea was to send patients back to their communities, where they would live better lives with help from local mental health programs.  

Unfortunately, those services were limited, and many people ended up on the streets or behind bars.  Today, up to 18% of inmates in Virginia prisons are taking drugs for psychiatric conditions, and critics say some are being punished because they can’t comply with prison rules.