Mecklenburg Correctional Center

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Mecklenburg Correctional Center was a medium security prison operated by the Virginia Department of Corrections in unincorporated Mecklenburg County, Virginia, United States, near Boydton. It was closed in 2012 due to a decrease in the number of inmates in the Virginia corrections system and expensive ongoing maintenance needs. The 189 acres (76 ha) facility served as a reception and classification facility.[1]

Mecklenburg formerly housed the State of Virginia's male death row. It is located at 36°39′39″N 78°21′49″W / 36.66083°N 78.36361°W / 36.66083; -78.36361Coordinates: 36°39′39″N 78°21′49″W / 36.66083°N 78.36361°W / 36.66083; -78.36361 (36.6607, -78.3636).[2]

History[edit]

Opened in March 1977 at a cost of $20 million, this 360-inmate facility was intended to serve as the facility for the "worst of the worst" among inmates in the Virginia Department of Corrections system – a maximum security prison. At the opening ceremony, Governor Mills E. Godwin Jr. stated that the facility served as a "monument to failure", as the inmates to be housed there were viewed as the most incorrigible and likely unable to be returned to free society.

The first warden at Mecklenburg was Gene Johnson. Johnson's assistant warden for operations and security was Fred L. Finkbeiner, who had served as the warden of the well-known Joliet and Pontiac maximum-security prisons in Illinois.[citation needed]

The prison has features, such as numerous electronic cellhouse doors that required the continuous presence of a corrections officer (CO) around the clock. This put fewer than necessary officers on the floor to observe inmates. Additionally, the low pay led to numerous CO positions remaining unfilled and caused some COs to be susceptible to bribes from inmates to bring contraband into the facility. There were a high number of CO-on-inmate as well as inmate-on-CO assaults, leading to numerous lawsuits alleging human rights abuses against the corrections department.[citation needed]

On August 3, 1998, the male death row moved to its current location, the Sussex I State Prison, from the Mecklenburg Correctional Center.

The 1984 escape from death row[edit]

Six inmates facing the Virginia electric chair made a daring escape from the facility on May 31, 1984. The inmates who escaped, two of the notorious Briley Brothers (James and Linwood), Lem Tuggle, Earl Clanton, Derick Peterson, and Willie Jones, had observed how correctional officers were complacent in following procedures. While returning to the building from evening recreation time, the hulking Clanton hid in a CO station restroom, then charged out on cue from another inmate when the CO station door was open.

Clanton overpowered the CO and released all of the locks in the housing unit. Inmates took over the unit and stole the uniforms of COs who subsequently entered on rounds. They bluffed their way out of the unit by putting on riot helmets to conceal their faces as they carried a purported bomb, which was in actuality a cellhouse TV covered with a blanket. They carried the TV out of the unit on a stretcher spraying it with fire extinguishers and put it into a waiting van, which they then drove out of the prison.

Once the six men were free of the prison, they escaped across the nearby North Carolina border. The men soon split up, unsure of what to do now they were back in free society.

Earl Clanton and Derick Peterson were caught the following day when a patrol car driving past a laundromat spotted two men inside, one of them wearing what appeared to be a CO's jacket with the badges torn off. The two had stopped to eat some cheese and drink cheap convenience store wine.

Tuggle, Jones and the Briley Brothers stole a pickup truck with the vanity tag 'PEI-1' from the driveway of its owner. The Brileys were dropped off in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where they went to work as mechanics for a friend of a local uncle. Tuggle and Jones got as far north as Vermont, where Tuggle was apprehended at gunpoint by Vermont state troopers after robbing a souvenir shop for $80.

Jones gave himself up the following day, just five miles south of the Canadian border. He was cold, hungry, and bitten by flies, so he called his mother who persuaded him to turn himself in. The Brileys were caught after the FBI traced a phone call they made to a contact in New York to the garage where they were working. All six men were returned to Virginia under heavy security. Upon their arrival, they were held on $10 million bond each.

Much of what has been revealed about the escape came from fellow inmate, Dennis Stockton. Dennis Stockton was also on death row for murder and originally planned to escape with them; but backed out because he anticipated his case would be overturned on appeal. During the escape, he wrote down everything that happened minute by minute in his diaries, which were later published in a Norfolk, Virginia newspaper, the Virginian Pilot.

Executions Dates of Escapees[edit]

  • Linwood Briley - October 12, 1984
  • James Briley - April 18, 1985
  • Earl Clanton - April 14, 1988
  • Derick Peterson - August 22, 1991
  • Willie Jones - September 11, 1992
  • Lem Tuggle - December 12, 1996

Reforms following the escapes[edit]

The impact of the 1984 escapes had sweeping ramifications for the Virginia corrections system. The director of the Department of Corrections was forced to resign. The warden of the facility, Gary Bass, was transferred out of that position. In federal courtroom testimony in a case involving the prison on September 27, 1984, Bass stated that various lawsuits against the prison had weakened morale among corrections staff and left them feeling that the "ACLU was running the prison".

In the years that followed the 1984 escape, many reforms occurred at Mecklenburg Correctional Center. There were educational programs introduced for inmates as well as work details. COs received better training, in which they were trained not to abuse inmates, and to use force only when emergency situations warranted it. A positive result of this change in philosophy – the number of inmate-on-CO assaults dropped significantly in the following years.

Facility Reclassification[edit]

The prison was proposed for closure by Governor L. Douglas Wilder in 1993. However, the succeeding administration of Governor George F. Allen determined that Mecklenburg should remain open, reclassifying it from a maximum security to medium security 'intake' facility. Death row was moved from the facility to Sussex I State Prison near Waverly, Virginia in 1997. In its last decade of operation, inmates who arrived at Mecklenburg were newly convicted and spent a few months there before being classified based on their security risk and sent to another prison.

Closure[edit]

In 2011, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell ordered MCC closed, citing removal of 1,000 Pennsylvania inmates who were housed at an other facility (Green Rock Correctional Center) under contract. MCC closed May 24, 2012 and was slated for demolition in 2013.[3] The Virginia Department of Corrections plans to limit what is sent to a landfill to just 50 tons of demolition debris, or 2 percent of the project’s estimated total.[4]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • "Escape Taught Hard Lesson - Death Row Flight Saw Fear Wipe Out Security Illusion", Frank Green and Michael Hardy, Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 29, 1994
  • "Plot Warnings Were in Vain", Frank Green and Wes Allison, Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 29, 1994
  • "Five Years After 'Great Escape' - Bomb Set Off Prison Changes", Jim Mason, Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 30, 1989

External links[edit]