Resident opposes juvenile detention center
Published 6:53 pm Friday, February 22, 2019
By Carl J. ‘Jim’ Laule
I am writing this to state my opposition to the Youth Correctional Facility Project moving forward. As a former candidate for Windsor Town Council who remains active in the local government, I have conducted exhaustive research on the potential impacts of the project, both positive and negative. I feel that it is imperative to look at any situation from all angles to be able to reach a well-established and fair conclusion, which is how I have come to the realization that this project is not a fit for Isle of Wight County.
The Youth Correctional Facility Project is not the economic boon that Isle of Wight County (“IOW” or “the County”) and the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), as being touted. Mr. Andrew Block, director of the DJJ, has stated on more than one occasion that of the 240 employees that would be employed by the correctional facility, only roughly 10 percent would be local employees with the rest of the staff being comprised of incumbent transfer state employees. Several studies have shown that state that the unemployment rates of towns with correctional facilities near them stay where they were or the rate will increase based on the other economic factors that the presence of a correctional facility affects.
Construction contracts, goods and services contracts, maintenance contracts and any other acquisition contract have to go through the State of Virginia bid process. This process does not give any precedence to local businesses or firms, therefore not guaranteeing any additional revenue to local businesses or firms.
As an individual who has intimate knowledge of government acquisitions processes, the bid typically goes to whomever can bid lowest without regard to quality of services rendered. This is a distinct advantage to large companies and corporations while locking out small businesses, as the low-profit margin overhead cost balance that it takes to win any contract is more easily managed and are absorbed more easily by a large company or corporation versus a small, local company.
If the county were to proceed with this project, taxes would have to increase to make necessary improvements and to attempt to keep the general quality of life that residents have come to expect from this great county. Supporting a facility of that size requires infrastructure that currently does not exist, such as the ability to provide the water necessary to have the facility meet building code requirements.
Another cost to consider is that the facility will place additional stress on the already antiquated and near-capacity sewage system.
There will also be a need for increased safety forces, not only from problems potentially coming from inmates/visitors to the facility, but in town as well. Towns with correctional facilities located near them have proven to have higher domestic abuse and substance abuse rates than towns without those types of facilities nearby, therefore increasing the crime rates.
If the land is given to the State of Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, the county loses all control over what can or cannot happen on that land, as the state is not required to abide by local zoning ordinances. The state could choose to expand the facility (triggering a need for even more infrastructure improvements that local taxpayers would be on the hook for), decide to house criminal illegal aliens there like they do at Staunton and several other youth facilities, repurpose it for adults, etc. Isle of Wight County would be ceding any and all existing control of that land to the state while still being expected to provide the necessary infrastructure to support it.
This project will also have an impact on a school system that is already pushing the limits of over-crowding. Bringing more families into the area will add to the number of students in the school district. If the inmates are counted as part of the county for school purposes, SOL scores will be reduced (inmates are typically not academic achievers), affecting the accreditation and the amount of funding that the school district currently receives from the state and federal governments. The Isle of Wight County schools are a big residential draw to the area. That will very easily disappear if overcrowding, accreditation or funding were to change.
I believe that the county is better off long-term by looking for a private, for-profit business that is seeking establishment or relocation. Please look past the short-term, easy thing to do and look to the long-term vision of the county. Government facilities, especially correctional facilities, are relatively unstable. They close and relocate all the time, leaving a high unemployment rate and an eyesore of an abandoned facility that the local community often has no purpose for. If the county is willing to give away the farm to what will turn into a money pit, why can’t we put together a tax and land benefit package to lure for-profit businesses that pay taxes and would bring real jobs (not just some inflated ghost total to use as a sales pitch) to the area instead?
Government-occupied facilities do not generate revenue and generally cost the surrounding area money to support. All one would have to do is to look around at the surrounding areas in Hampton Roads near military installations (which are government occupied lands). Are they typically well-off communities or run-down areas full of shady businesses with high crime rates? Please keep in mind that projects tend to have magnified effects in smaller areas that have less resources available to absorb the hit of hosting government-occupied facilities than a large city. Keeping the land as-is would still be a greater benefit to the county from a business perspective as it costs less to maintain than any government facility ever would.
The correctional facility will become a leech on the local residents and businesses, expecting and requiring expansion of infrastructure that they are not in any way obligated, nor will they, financially contribute to. This causes a depressed local economy, as people will emigrate from high-tax areas into areas that are more financially friendly to residents. There are parts of Portsmouth, Norfolk, Suffolk, Newport News and Hampton that are decent places to live, IF you don’t use the schools, expect nothing from the community, don’t mind the city feeling of lack of safety, and don’t mind paying high taxes for receiving absolutely nothing in return.
People live in and move to Isle of Wight County because of relatively low taxes, rural beauty, safety, peace and quiet, a tight-knit community and great schools. Many residents accept the sacrifice of a longer commute to work and shop to take advantage of all the great things that draw people to this great county. I believe that it takes a special person to want to live in a county such as ours in this modern environment where most people want a Target or Wal-Mart next door. The allure of quiet, country living will disappear along with the most important thing that makes this county special: its people.
The correctional facility project will erode at all of the positives that I had mentioned and Isle of Wight would lose its attractiveness as a great place to live, just turning into another high tax no-return Hampton Roads area. The sacrifices, such as a longer commute for things, would no longer be worth it. The schools, if overcrowded, will no longer be worth it. The feeling of safety, whether perceived or real, would disappear. Perception is reality and is the driver of most economic decisions such as buying a home or establishing a business. I do not want Isle of Wight County turning into “just another depressed Hampton Roads community,” and most of the current residents would happily agree with me. This juvenile correctional facility project is a poison pill that will have a plethora of unintended consequences. I urge you to support and listen to the people of this great county that you represent in telling Andrew Block and the Department of Juvenile Justice “NO, THANK YOU!”
CARL J. “JIM” LAULE is a resident of Windsor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.