Four months after a 1,024-bed Virginia prison was finished at a cost of $105 million, it sits empty — the consequence of a declining number of inmates statewide, and a reduction in state dollars to lock them up, reports the Roanoke Times. Having a new prison without prisoners is a striking turnabout for Virginia. The state’s inmate population of about 38,000 has nearly doubled since 1994, when the legislature voted to abolish parole and to embark on a prison-building boom.
In the past two fiscal years, however, the number of inmates has declined for the first time in recent history, dropping by 2.8 percent. The ongoing fiscal crunch has forced the Virginia Department of Corrections to trim its $1 billion budget. The state has eliminated nearly 2,500 prison beds in the past two years, in part by closing four correctional centers. Keeping the electricity running and paying a skeleton staff to maintain the 252,000-square-foot complex means the empty prison is costing taxpayers nearly $2,000 per day.