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Governor sets aside $14.3M to open prison

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In a budget amendment, Gov. Bob McDonnell calls for Grayson County prison to be open and at full capacity by January 2014.

By LARRY CHAMBERS, Staff
and Landmark News Service

INDEPENDENCE — Gov. Bob McDonnell is including $14.3 million in a budget proposal to open the River North Correctional Facility by January 2014.
McDonnell unveiled his proposed amendments to the 2012-2014 budget in a speech to the Joint Money Committees of the General Assembly on Monday morning in Richmond.
The 1,024-bed facility in Independence was completed in 2010 at a cost of $105 million, but has remained unused because of budget cuts and a decline in the state’s inmate population.
Plans call for the minimum-security facility to operate at full capacity in 2014 and employ 325 people, according to McDonnell’s administration.
It currently has six employees, who mostly perform maintenance.
The opening of the Grayson County facility is part of an effort to reduce the number of state-responsible prison inmates being housed in local jails, administration officials explained in a press release.
State Sen. Bill Carrico (R-Grayson County) was elated at the news from Gov. McDonnell on Monday.
He had written a letter to the governor, asking him to make the prison fully operational in 2013.
“This is a monumental day for Grayson County and all of Southwest Virginia,” Carrico said in a statement Monday. “While the process is not yet completed, I would like to thank Gov. McDonnell for including the River North Correctional Facility in his budget.
“This prison will bring hundreds of jobs to an area that is starving for economic development, and it is heartening to know that the Governor has responded positively to the efforts of so many Southwest Virginia leaders.”
The senator also thanked Del. Israel O’Quinn (R-Washington County) and  officials in Grayson County and elsewhere in Southwest Virginia.
“I am eager to go to Richmond and fight to protect the funds that Gov. McDonnell has set aside for this prison. I am confident that we are on the verge of opening this facility and putting hundreds of Southwest Virginians to work,” Carrico added.
O’Quinn, whose district includes Grayson County, also issued a statement on the governor’s announcement.
“Opening the prison has been one of my very highest priorities since the moment I took office,” he said. “We have explored multiple avenues over the past several months, and ultimately having the governor include it in his budget is by far the best route we could have hoped for. While this is not the final step, it is certainly a monumental step in the process.
“It has been a long road to get to this point, and a lot of hard work has been put in by a number of people throughout the Twin County area.”
O’Quinn thanked Carrico, along with county, city and town officials and citizens from across the Fifth House District for their efforts.
“This is a very, very exciting development for our area, and I cannot wait until we cut the ribbon and put folks to work.”
Grayson County Administrator Jonathan Sweet said Monday that the county’s leadership “was anxiously awaiting the governor’s proposed budget today.”
Sweet said the news is particularly exciting “to citizens who have been waiting on these employment opportunities for so long [and] what it means to our service industry, our housing market and our local economy as a whole.”
Sweet said the county officials’ enthusiasm will remain measured until the budget is adopted. The budget amendments still must survive contentious committee meetings and both houses of the General Assembly.
“But, we feel ever more optimistic that the prison will be opened very soon with the governor’s direction and our state representatives’ continued support.”