Mecklenburg Correctional Center
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.
It first opened in 1976. Opened 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.
The 1984 escape from death row
Six inmates facing the Virginia electric chair made a daring escape from the facility on May 31, 1984. The inmates who escaped consisted of two of the notorious Briley Brothers (James and Linwood), along with Lem Tuggle, Earl Clanton, Derick Peterson, and Willie Jones. They 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 correctional officer (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 after re-entering 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 planned to escape into Canada, as they knew that Canadian authorities would not extradite fugitives facing execution. They got as far north as Vermont, where Tuggle was apprehended at gunpoint by Vermont state troopers after robbing a souvenir shop (the same place he visited 3 days before for help when the stolen truck got stuck in the mud) for $80.
Jones gave himself up the following day, just five miles south of the Canada–US border. He was cold, hungry, and bitten by flies, so he called his mother. She persuaded him to turn himself in. Tuggle and Jones were housed at Marble Valley Correctional Facility in Rutland, Vermont, pending extradition back to Virginia. The Brileys were caught after the FBI traced a phone call they made to a contact in New York City back to the garage where they were working. All six men were returned to Virginia under heavy security. Upon their return, they were held on $10 million bond each.
Much of what has been revealed about the escape came from fellow inmate, Dennis Stockton. 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. Stockton did not succeed in his appeal and he was executed in 1995.
Execution dates of escapees
- Linwood Briley - October 12, 1984
- James Briley - April 18, 1985
- Earl Clanton - April 14, 1988
- Derick Peterson - August 22, 1991
- Willie Leroy Jones - September 11, 1992
- Lem Tuggle - December 12, 1996
Reforms following the escapes
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The 1984 escapes resulted in the Virginia corrections system undertaking reforms, and several personnel being adversely affected. The director of the Department of Corrections was forced to resign. The warden of the facility, Gary Bass, was transferred from 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, the department undertook many reforms at Mecklenburg Correctional Center. Educational programs were introduced for inmates, as well as work details. COs received better training, to reduce prisoner abuse and ensure that force was used only when emergency situations warranted it. A positive result of this change in philosophy was that the number of inmate-on-CO assaults dropped significantly in the following years.
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. During the prison's last decade of operation, it was used to house inmates short term. They were newly convicted and spent a few months at Mecklenburg before being classified based on their security risk and reassigned to other prisons.
In 2011, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell ordered MCC closed, citing removal of 1,000 Pennsylvania inmates who were housed at another facility (Green Rock Correctional Center) under contract. MCC closed May 24, 2012 and was slated for demolition in 2013. 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.
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- "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
- "McDonnell orders Mecklenburg Correctional Center closed". Richmond Times-Dispatch. December 13, 2011. Archived from the original on July 13, 2016. Retrieved July 13, 2016.
- "Ironclad in its time, MCC faces its own death penalty". www.sovanow.com. South Boston News & Record. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
- Robertson, Ellen. "Ex-security chief F.L. Finkbeiner dies". Richmond Times-Dispatch (14 July 2007). Retrieved 28 January 2018.
- "Facts about Virginia's Death Row" (). NBC4 Washington. Tuesday November 10, 2009. Retrieved on May 29, 2012.
- "Dennis Stockton". Death Penalty Information Center. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
- "McDonnell orders Mecklenburg Correctional Center closed", Richmond Times-Dispatch, December 2011
- "Recycle, repurpose, reuse".
- "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
- "Mecklenburg Correctional Center (male classification/intake institution)." Virginia Department of Corrections. Retrieved on August 22, 2010.