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Virginia Rent-a-Cell Program Expected to Net $100 Million

Virginia Rent-A-Cell Program Expected to Net $100 Million

The state of Virginia will pocket an estimated $100 million in 2001 by warehousing out-of-state and federal prisoners for a fee.

About 10% of the Virginia jail and prison population is out-of-state or federal prisoners. During the year 2000, Virginia charged between $60 and $130 per day for each such prisoner incarcerated in Virginia, due to overcrowding in those prisoners' states of conviction. The average daily cost of incarcerating Virginia prisoners in 2000 was $51.14.

In 2000, Virginia netted a tidy $78 million in cell-renting fees. Of this sum, $56 million was used for prisoner expenses, while the remaining $21.3 million went to the state's general fund.

"There is no profit here, per se ," said Dick Hickman of Virginia's Senate Finance Committee. He contends that there is no profit because the additional money goes back into the Virginia prison system.

In any event, it is difficult to understand how charging from $60 to $130 per day to incarcerate prisoners representing only a daily cost to Virginia of $51.14 does not translate into profit for Virginia. How the profit is spent is irrelevant.

Jenni Gainsborough of the Sentencing Project, an independent source of criminal justice policy analysis, disapproved of Virginia's cell-renting program. She pointed out that incarcerating prisoners so far from home interferes with their ability to maintain family ties and to communicate with lawyers.

Hickman predicted that a rising need for cells for Virginia prisoners will likely reduce the number of future out-of-state prisoners to be held in Virginia prisons.

Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch .

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