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Seven Prisoners Died in 2021, One by Homicide, at Virginia’s Only Private Prison

The Lawrenceville Correctional Center (LCC), Virginia’s only remaining for-profit prison, now also has the dubious distinction of reporting seven prisoner deaths in 2021. One of those deaths has been confirmed as a homicide. One is suspected to be a fatal stabbing. Two are reported or suspected to be drug overdoses. Three of the dead have not been publicly named.

The lack of details is striking.

What is known is that LCC was the second-largest prison holding people for the state Department of Corrections (DOC), according to the agency’s most recent report, with 1,411 of DOC’s 23,356 prisoners housed at LCC at the end of November 2021. The prison in rural Brunswick County is operated for DOC under a contract with the Florida-based GEO Group, the country’s largest private prison contractor, with 2020 revenues of $2.35 billion.

The year’s first death at LCC was a reported fatal overdose on February 3, 2021. The prisoner’s name and cause of death were not confirmed, however.

Then there was a reported brawl on May 9, 2021, which left an unidentified prisoner dead and another unnamed prisoner in the hospital with stab wounds.

The third death occurred on August 3, 2021, when Mark A. Grethen was attacked and killed in his cell by another prisoner. The 63-year-old former Suffolk businessman and top GOP donor was serving a 26-year sentence he received in 2001 for sexually assaulting a minor. His unnamed assailant is reportedly serving 22 years for crimes that include robbery, malicious wounding, and assault by an inmate or probationer on an employee.

The next death occurred on August 10, 2021, when prisoner Steven Foster died at LCC. The cause of his death is still under investigation, but GEO released a statement expressing “condolences to his family and loved ones.”

“We take the safety of those in our care with the utmost seriousness and can also confirm that the individual received prompt medical care, in accordance with the standards set by the Virginia Department of Corrections and the American Correctional Association,” the statement concluded.

Yet another prisoner death was recorded at LCC on September 30, 2021. That man’s name and his cause of death were also not reported.

Next, on November 20, 2021, prisoner Kendall Moore, 38, was found unresponsive in his cell. He was taken by emergency transport to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, but again no cause of death was reported.

The last death occurred on December 14, 2021, after guards conducting a wellness check found 53-year-old Edward Jones unresponsive in his cell. DOC said a drug overdose was suspected.

For the overdose deaths, a partial explanation may be provided by two incidents previously reported by PLN. The first was the crash of a drone aircraft on the grounds of a private school next door to the prison in September 2021, after which police recovered a backpack containing drugs and other contraband. [See: PLN, Dec. 2021, p.62.] The next incident occurred in November 2021, when a pair of Norfolk men were apprehended in the woods surrounding LCC with a drone and more contraband. [See: PLN, Jan. 2022, p.62.]

After the year’s last three deaths at LCC, no statement was reported from the GEO Group, so there is only its promise after Steven Foster died that it treats prisoner safety with “utmost seriousness.” It’s certainly better than hearing that they seriously don’t care.  


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