Modern Prisons in Virginia

the State Penintentiary in Richmond held prisoners from 1800-1990
the State Penintentiary in Richmond held prisoners from 1800-1990
Source: Library of Virginia, Virginia Memory, Virginia State Penitentiary Photograph Collection

The Virginia Department of Corrections has built numerous new prisons in the 1990's. More prison beds were required by court decisions forcing better treatment of prisoners, and the state anticipated a need to house more prisoners resulting from "get tough" policies on crime. Most significantly, the General Assembly abolished parole under then-Governor George Allen, and funded new prisons to house inmates longer until their full sentences were completed. Virginia even keeps prisoners at a private correctional institution, Lawrenceville Correctional Center.

note the absence of state prison facilities in Northern Virginia
note the absence of state prison facilities in Northern Virginia
Source: Virginia Department of Corrections

The surge of prison capacity created more jail cells faster than Virginia judges created prisoners. The excess capacity in modern prisons was created in part by a lower-than-expected crime rate. Project Exile and other deterrents my have been effective, or perhaps the aging population was less inclined to commit crimes (or smarter about not getting caught...). The good economy in the "dot com" boom may have made it easier to earn money than to steal it, or perhaps Virginia failed to catch the first crooks that shifted to e-crime.

Other states, which had the opposite situation, contracted with Virginia to house their inmates. New Mexico, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia were the most visible in this rent-a-cell program. This generated revenue for Virginia, and met the needs of the states that had exceeded population capacity of their jails.

The "supermax" prisons are located in Southwest Virginia, where the local demographics are substantially different from urban areas. As a result, the diversity of the guard force does not match the racial patterns of the criminal population in the facility. Out-of-state legislators have nothing to lose by blaming Virginia's correctional officers whenever an inmate from their region is injured or dies in a Virginia jail, and even suggesting racial bias. (Connecticut had its prisoners moved to the Greensville Correctional Center in 2001, before returning them all to Connecticut in 2004.)

The warden at Wallens Ridge State Prison filed suit against New Haven, Connecticut newspapers after they portrayed him unfavorably in articles about treatment of the Connecticut prisoners. As described in a 2002 appeals court decision:1

Sometime in the late 1990s the State of Connecticut was faced with substantial overcrowding in its maximum security prisons. To alleviate the problem, Connecticut contracted with the Commonwealth of Virginia to house Connecticut prisoners in Virginia's correctional facilities. Beginning in late 1999 Connecticut transferred about 500 prisoners, mostly African-American and Hispanic, to the Wallens Ridge State Prison, a "supermax" facility in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. The plaintiff, Stanley Young, is the warden at Wallens Ridge. Connecticut's arrangement to incarcerate a sizeable number of its offenders in Virginia prisons provoked considerable public debate in Connecticut. Several Connecticut legislators openly criticized the policy, and there were demonstrations against it at the state capitol in Hartford.

Connecticut newspapers, including defendants the New Haven Advocate (the Advocate) and the Hartford Courant (the Courant), began reporting on the controversy. On March 30, 2000, the Advocate published a news article, written by one of its reporters, defendant Camille Jackson, about the transfer of Connecticut inmates to Wallens Ridge. The article discussed the allegedly harsh conditions at the Virginia prison and pointed out that the long trip to southwestern Virginia made visits by prisoners' families difficult or impossible. In the middle of her lengthy article, Jackson mentioned a class action that inmates transferred from Connecticut had filed against Warden Young and the Connecticut Commissioner of Corrections.

The inmates alleged a lack of proper hygiene and medical care and the denial of religious privileges at Wallens Ridge. Finally, a paragraph at the end of the article reported that a Connecticut state senator had expressed concern about the presence of Confederate Civil War memorabilia in Warden Young's office. At about the same time the Courant published three columns, written by defendant-reporter Amy Pagnozzi, questioning the practice of relocating Connecticut inmates to Virginia prisons. The columns reported on letters written home by inmates who alleged cruelty by prison guards. In one column Pagnozzi called Wallens Ridge a "cut-rate gulag." Warden Young was not mentioned in any of the Pagnozzi columns.

On May 12, 2000, Warden Young sued the two newspapers, their editors (Gail Thompson and Brian Toolan), and the two reporters for libel in a diversity action filed in the Western District of Virginia. He claimed that the newspapers' articles imply that he "is a racist who advocates racism" and that he "encourages abuse of inmates by the guards" at Wallens Ridge. Young alleged that the newspapers circulated the allegedly defamatory articles throughout the world by posting them on their Internet websites.

A District Court had ruled that "the defendants' Connecticut-based Internet activities constituted an act leading to an injury to the plaintiff in Virginia" because "the newspapers understood that their defamatory articles, which were available to Virginia residents on the Internet, would expose Young to public hatred, contempt, and ridicule in Virginia, where he lived and worked.... The defendants were all well aware of the fact that the plaintiff was employed as a warden within the Virginia correctional system and resided in Virginia," and "...any harm suffered by Young from the circulation of these articles on the Internet would primarily occur in Virginia."

However, the appeals court dismissed the suit, ruling that "newspapers do not have sufficient Internet contacts with Virginia to permit the district court to exercise specific jurisdiction over them."

In 2009, a private, for-profit corporation (Immigration Centers of America) built the Farmville Detention Center in Prince Edward County, near the Piedmont Regional Juvenile Center. It contracted with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a Federal agency in the Department of Homeland Security, to house undocumented immigrants.

In 2018, the Department of Justice decided to stop keeping Federal inmates in private prisons, but the Department of Homeland Security did not mirror that decision and kept housing detainees at the Farmville Detention Center.

the Farmville Detention Center was built in 2009, and is located near the Piedmont Regional Juvenile Center in Prince Edward County
the Farmville Detention Center was built in 2009, and is located near the Piedmont Regional Juvenile Center in Prince Edward County
Source: GoogleMaps

Later in 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement arranged for a second facility in Virginia to house immigrants. The Peumansend Regional Jail had operated in in Caroline County between 1999-2017, housing overflow prisoners for the counties of Arlington, Caroline, Loudoun and Prince William plus the cities of Alexandria and Richmond. When the need for additional space declined, the prison closed and Caroline County ended up the only remaining member of the authority.

President Donald Trump announced in 2018 that all illegal immigrants would stay in detention rather than be released before trial, and that increased the demand for housing the immigrants. Immigration and Customs Enforcement planned to hire over 100 people, and pay Caroline County a minimum of $27,600 daily for five years. As part of the arrangements, the Peumansend Regional Jail was renamed the Caroline Detention Facility.2

The Federal agency planned to keep 336 people there. It guaranteed payment of $123.15/day per person for the first 224 detainees, $50.08/day for the next 55 people, and $22.08/day for the last 55 detainees. The average stay was expected to be 78 days, during which a person would go through the administrative hearing process and be deported or released.

Five buildings there were designated to house undocumented men, and one for women. Each room was scheduled to hold four detainees.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not plan for children to be kept at the site. The Caroline County site was not open during the 2018 furor over separating undocumented parents from their children.3

in 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracted to use the former Peumansend Creek Regional Jail to house 336 undocumented immigrants
in 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracted to use the former Peumansend Creek Regional Jail to house 336 undocumented immigrants
Source: , Peumansend Creek Regional Jail

Federal Prisons in Virginia

First Prison in Colonial Virginia

Death Row and Executions in Virginia



1. Stanley K. Young v. New Haven Advocate, US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, decided December 13, 2002, (last checked February 26, 2006)
2. "Illegal immigrants to be held in former Peumansend jail in Caroline," Free Lance-Star, July 4, 2018,; "No worries at the private immigration detention center in Farmville," Washington Post, August 25, 2016,; "Farmville’s gravy train may be slowing," Washington Post, May 1, 2015, Free Lance-Star, February 3, 2017, (last checked July 4, 2018)
3. "Inside look of new Virginia facility where illegal immigrants will be housed," WWWBT NBC12, August 1, 2018, (last checked August 2, 2018)

Prisons in Virginia
Crime and Punishment in Virginia
Virginia Places