College Leaders Program, Class of 2016
Day Five: June 15, 2016
Reported by Tania Valencia, Virginia Commonwealth University
After being woken up by an incredibly sudden fire alarm this morning, it was certain that today would be quite eventful.
We had the chance to take not one, but two trips across Virginia. Our first trip was a visit to Green Rock Correctional Center in Chatham, Virginia. Our second trip was a tour of Danville, Virginia.
When we showed up to Green Rock, we had to pass through security to ensure everyone's safety. I had never been to a prison before so this was quite a new experience for me.
There are about 1,000 offenders being housed in the facility with about 600 Black offenders, 400 White offenders, and fewer than 60 Latino and Asian offenders.
It costs about $23 a day to house an offender in Virginia; in Pennsylvania, it costs about $75 a day. In 2008, there were about 1,000 offenders that were sent to Green Rock from Pennsylvania. Shortly after, they had to do another transition in which the Pennsylvania offenders were sent back and Green Rock had to be filled by Virginia offenders once again.
We were informed that some of the gangs that have been found within Green Rock include the Bloods, Crips, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), and White supremacists. There is also one transgender individual being housed within the prison. Any offender who has not received his high school diploma also has to take classes towards earning the GED. Since the program's introduction, there have been 399 students who have received their GEDs.
A significant program that Green Rock offers to offenders is BARK. The program allows selected offenders to train dogs who will eventually be adopted. This trainer-dog relationship is therapeutically beneficial for the offenders and is also rewarding for the dogs, because both parties receive love and attention that they have not had before.
The offenders are housed in a clean and organized environment. There are, however, still improvements that can be made to the criminal justice system with more profound psychologically-based programs.
The second trip to Danville included a tour of the economic development of the downtown area. For people who have been raised in Danville, it is incredibly important to hold onto the potential to raise its development. There has been a significant rise in housing options provided by the transformation of former factories into lofts. There has also been a rise in small businesses that are attracting people back into the area.
Another area of improvement that they have been focusing on is the overall image of what downtown Danville looks like. They have created a more centralized area around Main Street and built a fountain to draw in focus. We also had the chance to see the Danville Science Center, which is home to an impressive dome projection similar to an IMAX, but with more advanced technology.
We were also briefed on the issues that Danville is experiencing with the support of the Confederate flag by residents. There are concerns that the flag creates a negative image of Danville and would reflect poorly on the social stability of the area. Danville residents acknowledge that there is significant room for improvement and look forward to the continued progression of its economic development.