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Virginia Department of Corrections — Public Safety First

Department of Corrections Brief History

Virginia, from the time of the first settlement at Jamestown to the relocation of the state capital to Richmond in the late 1700's, relied upon corporal and capital punishment as its penal measures. Gradually, Virginia began to use small county jails for sentences of confinement.

After the Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson began to urge that Virginia construct a "penitentiary house" as was being done in Europe. At the time, penitentiary houses were being used throughout Europe to confine and reform criminals. For more than a decade, the General Assembly ignored Jefferson's ideas. Even then it seems that building prisons was not a popular governmental activity.

In 1796, a wave of reform swept the Virginia Legislature, and Benjamin Latrobe was engaged to design a penitentiary house. Latrobe's facility was constructed on a site outside Richmond overlooking the James River. The facility, which received its first prisoners in 1800 and was completed in 1804, was known by generations of Virginians as the Virginia State Penitentiary or the "Pen".

Since the 1800's, Virginia has opened many more correctional facilities. Today, the Department of Corrections, which oversees the operation of the Commonwealth's adult correctional facilities, operates approximately 50 institutions statewide. During this past quarter century the Department has grown from a modest agency of 5,300 inmates, and 4,100 employees, to an agency of around 31,000 inmates, and nearly 13,000 employees. 2004 marked the 30th anniversary of the creation of the Virginia Department of Corrections.

In 1942, statewide Probation and Parole Services were created under the new Virginia Parole Board and were shifted to the Department of Corrections on July 1, 1974. The Statewide Community-based Corrections System was expanded and codified in 1995. It includes 43 Probation and Parole Districts, Diversion Centers, Detention Centers, Drug Court programs, and central support units that manage activities with local correctional facilities, Interstate Compact for Probationers and Parolees, and staff support for the Virginia Parole Board.

Today, the Virginia Department of Corrections’ (DOC) mission is to enhance public safety by controlling and supervising sentenced offenders in a humane, cost-efficient manner, consistent with sound correctional principles and constitutional standards.

The DOC is a model correctional agency and a proven innovative leader in the profession. Virginia is a safer place to live and work because the Department provides exemplary services and programs for the rehabilitation and supervision of offenders.