Jail Commission OKs Positions

Action Part Of Effort To Combat Overcrowding

The Rockbridge Regional Jail Commission approved the creation of three emergency officer positions at the regular monthly board meeting last Wednesday in hopes of addressing issues related to chronic overcrowding.

According to an assessment made by the Virginia Department of Corrections and Virginia Compensation Board, the jail is currently operating at 189 percent capacity above the rated capacity of 56 inmates. The compensation board supplied the jail with a needs assessment of nine emergency positions based on the facility’s rate of overcapacity.

“With that, I requested emergency funding for salary dollars for temporary funding,” Superintendent Derek Almarode reported to the board. “We received $57,012 for the remainder of this fiscal year. I had previously requested the board to entertain three additional officers immediately, so we have now identified funding to assist with that.

“The plan is to put in two booking officers, which will put the entire shift in operations,” he explained.

When the original jail assessment was completed years ago, booking was not identified as a working post with a jail population of a mere 30 inmates. The rise in population has led to understaffing as officers share the responsibility of booking with their assigned post to accommodate an average of eight to 10 transactions a day.

“That will help some of the issues we’ve had with just getting people in,” Almarode said. “There will be two assigned to umbrella the shifts, so the shifts are not saddled with that responsibility. We’re going to add a third transportation officer because we transport for all jurisdictions which will help alleviate some of the duties of the other agencies for those court hearings.”

“Even though we are short nine positions,” Almarode said in reference to the DOC audit, “we currently have three full-time positions funded by the localities. I think we can manage efficiently with these three additional people.”

Though the emergency positions were approved by the commission, board members acknowledged the caveat of temporary funding halfway through the year. Buena Vista City Manager Jay Scudder, Lexington City Manager Jim Halasz and County Administrator Spencer Suter agreed their jurisdictions could not “promise” to supplement the emergency positions when the temporary salary dollars are no longer provided at the conclusion of the fiscal year. Hiring three officers with a potential expiration date of about six months will prove to be tricky, they asserted, but ultimately agreed the use of emergency funding is necessary to address overcrowding.

Looking back on 2019, Almarode reported the jail to have processed 2,765 human transactions in the facility, averaging 7.58 a day in the past year.

“Since January 1, we’ve processed in 100 folks,” Almarode reported to the board. “Our in-house recitative rate is at 79.75 percent.”

“The ugly elephant that everybody doesn’t want to talk about is emergency housing,” Almarode continued. “We budgeted for 28 inmates out and currently we will have somewhere in the neighborhood of 85 to 90.”

Discussing the early stages of budget development, Suter reported the difference in the current fiscal year budget and the upcoming budget as an estimated increase of $1.2 million. The cost increases are tied largely in part to accommodating emergency inmate housing at other facilities.

“In the month of November [to] December, we used more gas than the sheriff’s office,” Almarode said of emergency housing transport expenditures. Vehicles and staff are extra costs to be considered in managing the up tick of emergency housing.

In addition to the trouble with emergency housing, the local housing of state inmates has also caused an issue.

As of November, an average of 41 inmates at the Rockbridge Regional Jail meet the criteria of a state inmate, Almarode reported.

“The water in the river has overflowed the dam,” Almarode analogized to the board. “[The jail] is not designed to carry out these long sentences.”

The newly elected Jail Commission chairman Ed Hoskin relayed the observation from probation officers that “soft sentences” in Rockbridge County and Buena Vista are also a concern.

“It means there’s not enough sentence to get their attention and deter them from committing another crime,” he said, adding a soft sentence also means an inmate stays at the regional jail rather than reporting to a state correctional facility.

“In terms of arrests, it’s pretty much the same in the last three years,” Ed Hoskin said. “Recidivism is our problem.”

Chipping away at the recidivism problem is the jail’s work release program.

Almarode described the program as currently “booming” and reported there to be 13 participating inmates with additional pending interviews with a partnering employer. Two inmates are also enrolled in home electronic monitoring.

“The restorative factors of the programs are why we developed them in the first place,” Alamrode said. “If they do well in their work environment, that’s a full-time ride for them when they come out. The likelihood of them having recitative behavior is greatly decreased.”

The News-Gazette

The News-Gazette Corp.
P.O. Box 1153
Lexington, VA 24450
(540) 463-3113

Email Us

Facebook Twitter

Latest articles