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New prison officially opens

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By Staff Reports

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River North Correctional Center opened on Wednesday as Virginia’s first new prison since 2007, bringing hundreds of new jobs to the Grayson County area.
River North, lead by Warden Ben Wright, opened as a Security Level IV facility and will house around 1,000 offenders.

It will have approximately 350 full-time employees, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC). The agency said in a news release that 85 percent of all hires have been from Grayson County or surrounding counties, with 37 percent specifically from Grayson.
The facility will have an estimated annual payroll of $16 million and a budget of $23 million, including payroll, according to the VADOC.
Gov. Bob McDonnell, Secretary of Public Safety Marla Graff Decker and VADOC Director Harold Clarke, along with other local and state officials and River North staff, marked the opening of the new prison at an outdoor ceremony on Wednesday afternoon.
Inmates will start moving into River North in early October.
“I am incredibly proud of the work that has been done to get this facility ready and the professional nature of our new correctional officers and correctional center staff,” said Wright in a prepared statement. “The community has been really welcoming, and there is an understanding that what we’re doing here involves preparing offenders for successful re-entry into this and other communities in Virginia.”
The General Assembly appropriated $100.5 million to build River North, and construction was completed in spring 2010. With no funding to operate the facility, it sat dormant until this year.
McDonnell’s budget for fiscal year 2014 included $14.3 million to open the facility. The Virginia Senate and House of Delegates approved a budget that included the prison money, along with an additional $3.5 million appropriated to open by October of this year.
Following the closing of several correctional facilities in recent years, the opening of River North will add much-needed bed space to the Virginia prison system, corrections officials said, and the facility “will contribute to the VADOC’s primary mission to improve public safety in the commonwealth.”
Following budget reductions, the VADOC closed Mecklenburg Correctional Center in 2012; James River Correctional Center in 2011; and Grayson County Medium Security Facility, Brunswick Correctional Center, and Botetourt Correctional Center in 2010. The last new correctional centers to open were Green Rock Correctional Center and Pocahontas State Correctional Center, both in 2007.
As of June, the total average daily population in VADOC prisons was 29,883 offenders. The Probation & Parole caseload for June was 57,165.

More information on VADOC can be found at vadoc.virginia.gov. The River North page can be found at vadoc.virginia.gov/facilities/western/river-north/.

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