Is the Virginia prison system failing those with mental illnesses? Does the state need to reform its re-entry program? Those were among the topics of discussion Thursday night at a town hall meeting on prison reform, held by local Arlington delegates Adam Ebbin and Patrick Hope.
Helen Trainer of the Legal Aid Justice Center pointed to a story of an inmate who wasn’t allowed to self-medicate in his prison cell. Told to wait in the daily line at the clinic, he ultimately suffered numerous seizures and left the prison as a quadriplegic. Trainer believes the story is not an isolated incident and is indicative of the reform needed throughout the nation’s criminal justice system.
Trainer said prison employees, more often than not, falsely believe that inmates’ behavior stems from a lack of control, rather than from mental health problems. Identifying individuals with mental health issues from the point of intake and diverting them to mental health facilities could help alleviate many of the outbreaks that occur in prisons, she explained.
Scott Richeson of the Virginia Department of Corrections spoke about the department’s new emphasis on prisoner re-entry programs. He said that 13,500 people are released from Virginia’s prisons annually, but only 600-800 are paroled, making Virginia one of the country’s lowest parole-granting states. And of the 13,500 prisoners released, 28.5 percent are incarcerated again within three years.
Governor Robert McDonnell has appointed two Arlington lawmakers to his government reform panel.
State Delegate Bob Brink and state Senator Mary Margaret Whipple, both Democrats, will join 29 other appointees on the Governor’s Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring.
“The Commission members will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the state’s agencies, programs, and services to find out how we can make our state government work better for its owners, the people of Virginia,” Gov. McDonnell said while announcing his selections for the panel. “I look forward to working with these reform-minded leaders to examine how Virginia can better serve the taxpayers.”
In addition to Del. Brink and Sen. Whipple, several top government reform thinkers who live or work in Arlington were appointed to the commission.
One appointee, Bill Eggers, is a government reform expert, a global director for Deloitte Research and the brother of author Dave Eggers.
Maurice P. McTigue, a distinguished visiting scholar at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, and Geoffrey Segal, director of privatization and government reform at the Reason Foundation, were also named to the governor’s commission.
Commission members will hold their first meeting next month.