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November 11, 2019

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Mass Incarceration, Truth-In-Sentencing and the Domino Effect

Truth-in-Sentencing has caused a domino effect of oppression that prisoners and their families are feeling far beyond being incarcerated for extremely long periods of time. The present conditions of Augusta Correctional Center are prime examples of what mass incarceration can do.

Originally when Augusta was built in the 80's it held single cell occupants. After Truth-in-Sentencing laws were adopted by the Virginia General Assembly in 1995 which abolished parole, established mandatory minimum sentences, and ensured that prisoners would do 85% of their sentences, there has been a spike in the prison population in Virginia from 18,000 to approximately 40,000. As the prison population increased the Department of Corrections began double bunking facilities which were originally designed to be single celled. Although Augusta experienced double bunking they still kept six single cells units including segregation. Approximately 2 years ago when Powhatan Correctional Center closed, 2 more units were double bunked in order to house the displaced prisoners.

This influx of approximately three hundred prisoners placed the population at over 1300 people. The prison was only designed to hold approximately 800 people, so it is presently 500 people over capacity. This has resulted in not only double bunking, but also water restrictions, excessive lockdowns, sub par food, and inadequate healthcare. The amount of people that a prison holds compared to what it is designed to hold has a dramatic effect upon how that prison is ran. 

Augusta has been on a water restriction for the last six months where the prisoners are only allowed to shower from 3:00pm to 11:00pm and we can only flush our toilets once every five minutes or the toilet will lock which causes the smell of feces to remain in the air until the toilet unlocks twenty minutes later. The reason for the water restriction is that the citizens of the town of Craigsville where the prison is located filed a lawsuit in the past which compels the facility to make sure that the prisoners only use a certain amount of water so as not to cut into the water supply of the town. The truth is that the water problem is not the prisoners fault. It can all be traced back to overcrowding and what is called prison gerrymandering.

Why is the prison out in rural Augusta County anyway? Well, prison gerrymandering is when prisons are strategically built in certain areas in order to bring revenue to that location. Most of the prisoners housed at Augusta are not even from this region yet they are counted in the census. This alone brings capital, not to mention the revenue from visiting families, and jobs for people in this area. The sad thing is that the citizens of Augusta have no problem counting prisoners in the census for funding and districting, but when it comes to using the water, we seem to disappear. [Check outwww.prisonerofhecensus.org for more info.]

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