McDonnell pledges better programs for jail inmates
Governor-elect Bob McDonnell praised the success of an inmate-run rehabilitation program at Henrico Jail East during last week’s visit to the New Kent County facility. And he also used the occasion to announce plans to seek better programs for inmates, including one that would team newly released inmates with mentors in the community.
Last Thursday inside the facility’s Building 4 and just two days before his inauguration as Virginia’s 71st governor, McDonnell spoke to more than 150 male and female inmates enrolled in the jail’s RISE program.
Afterward in the jail’s commons area, the governor-elect joined other state officials and representatives from outside organizations affiliated with state and local penal systems for a roundtable discussion on jail and prison needs. Some representatives pleaded with the governor-elect not to reduce or eliminate their state funding.
In his speech to inmates, McDonnell labeled the RISE program as “visionary” and a means for inmates to turn their lives around.
“In America, no matter what you did yesterday, you have dreams and hopes to accomplish whatever you want to accomplish,” he told the inmates. “You have a chance to dream big and be what you want to be.”
“This is a place to be rehabilitated,” he said. “Here you get the skills and desire and dedication to make a different kind of life when you get out.
“Everybody in this room has made mistakes — some got caught. But all are human beings and all have flaws as humans. You’ve got the chance today to say I’m going to do the right thing.
“All of us are unique and have special talents. Even though you wear blue [jail] uniforms and are paying a debt to society, that does not make you any less important member of Virginia society. You’ve said yes I want to be positive when I get out.”
McDonnell said he plans on being the governor for all Virginia residents “whether it’s the prosperous and heads of corporations or you here in jail or the homeless.”
He promised to push for programs, such as mentoring, to assist the 11,000 inmates that exit state jails and prisons every year in adjusting to society for up to 90 days after their release from confinement. He said he is encouraged by statistics that show repeat offender rates on the decline thanks to programs like RISE.
“I want to do a better job in prisons to make the kind of programs that make a difference,” he said.
“I want to work to make programs better, give you a sense of dignity that your life is worth a lot, and give you a sense of hope,” he concluded.
McDonnell then fielded questions from individual inmates. During the roundtable, he said his administration will be tough on crime while protecting the public, but he plans to direct efforts at keeping people out of jail. Doing so, he added, reduces demand for prison services thus providing some budget relief.
“I’m concerned about public safety, but it’s a very, very tight budget,” he said. “We’ve already made cuts and there could be millions more to go.
“We want to do everything we can to support your efforts,” he told roundtable participants. “I’m a firm believer in that your programs work and work well. If the resources are available, we’ll provide them.”
Briefly addressing the news media afterward, McDonnell said, “I’m encouraged by what I heard here today.”