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Bluefield University Criminal Justice Students Visit Red Onion State Prison

by | Jun 21, 2019

Bluefield University criminal justice students visited Red Onion State Prison in Wise County, Virginia to tour the facility this spring.

Bluefield University criminal justice students visited Red Onion State Prison in Wise County, Virginia to tour the facility this spring. These types of trips are helpful because real-world experiences provide BU students with a leg up in practical knowledge and training in the field. Networking with future employers and real-life experiences can also make students unique and attractive to employers when they begin applying for jobs.

Not only were the students able to tour the facility, but they were also able to visit and speak with some of the prisoners that were housed there at the time. Those prisoners included: the DC Sniper, Lee Boyd Malveaux; serial rapist and murderer, Jessie Matthews; The Grayson County Christmas Tree Killer, and Freddie Hammer who has killed from 17 to 50 people. The prison also includes Italian, Russian, and Japanese Mafia members.

“While many of us were aware that there are several “famous” inmates, the facility also houses several significant prisoners including several serial killers and highly ranked gang members that we were unaware were being detained in that facility,” said Jeff Disibbio, assistant professor of criminal justice.

Ever since the tour back in April, Dr. Kim Farmer, professor, and chair in the department of criminal justice at Bluefield University has had numerous students come by her office and ask questions and conduct research on many of the people they met that is unassociated with any class assignments. “I think that this trip alleviated some of the fears that students had about entering the field of corrections,” said Dr. Farmer.

“Many of these are students that have been moderately engaged during class time but have now become immersed in learning all they can about various aspects of our visit,” said Disibbio.

Students had heard that Red Onion was a “Super-max” facility that housed a tremendous number of the most dangerous prisoners in the State of Virginia, but many of the students were unaware of the programs that are now being offered to the inmates as a form of rehabilitation. These range from trade school types of training to GED courses to prepare inmates for post-incarceration life. The step-down program at Red Onion has been tremendously successful in transforming the decision making of the prisoners. A large number of prisoners have now earned the right to be contained in a less restrictive manner. The facility had nearly 500 prisoners in segregation and was constantly volatile, but through new training methods they now have stepped down to under 50 inmates being detained at that security level. It really is a tremendous change, and the demeanor of the entire facility has improved, according to the guards.

“I was able to contact a friend in the Richmond Department of Corrections, Greg Carter, he is the head of communications for Virginia’s Department of Corrections (VDOC). After speaking with him for several months, he assisted us in making this trip possible. In fact, we have discussed an ongoing relationship between VDOC and BU and hope to provide opportunities for our graduates, and in turn, we can get firsthand knowledge of the inner workings of facilities like Red Onion as well as visiting speakers, job announcements, and much more,” said Disibbio.

The Red Onion State Prison’s mission is to enhance the quality of life in the Commonwealth by improving public safety. They accomplish this through the reintegration of sentenced men and women in custody and care by providing supervision and control, effective programs, and re-entry services in safe environments that foster positive change and growth consistent with research-based evidence, fiscal responsibility, and constitutional standards.

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