Jail Study: Already Crowded, Will Get Worse Fast

Jeremy Aldrich -- January 21st, 2009

A 2007 study by the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission projects that the Rockingham-Harrisonburg Regional Jail will be at more than double its capacity by the year 2025, and called for beginning the design and construction process in the 2009 session of the General Assembly, which is already underway. 

The study, prepared for the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors and the Harrisonburg City Council, notes that the current facility is rated by the Department of Corrections for up to 208 inmates.  As of 2006, the prison population was already at 282 inmates, and is projected to rise to 422 inmates by 2025 as the area’s population grows.

If the projections hold true and the jail is not expanded, the facility would be at 203% of its state-rated capacity.

The study also notes that due to the nature of the state budget, which is biennial, the project would need to be submitted to the DOC for approval in an odd-numbered year so that it could be put into the budget for the following year.  The study points out that since 1996 there has been a moratorium on state funding for jail construction or expansion without special approval by the General Assembly.  If the state legislature chooses to lift the moratorium for the project, it would pay for up to 50% of the project’s funding, with the rest of the money coming from local sources.  If the regional jail were changed to a local jail, the state would only contribute a maximum of 25% of the cost.

The current jail was opened in 1994.  If the process to plan expansion began this year, then the addition could be occupied as early as 2014, when the prison population is expected to rise to 343.  In any case, the process would take about 5 years from beginning to end.

There are no specific recommendations on how the current facility could expand, but the pending sale of the old Harrisonburg Police Department headquarters to Rosetta Stone would limit the available real estate in the immediate vicinity.  The DNR recently quoted Rockingham County Administrator Joe Paxton as saying that space could potentially be taken from the current parking areas to the south and west of the building.

75 Responses to “Jail Study: Already Crowded, Will Get Worse Fast”

  1. The Valley Progressive says:

    You’re just learning that now??

  2. Breslau says:

    Well, I’ve been on this site for a year or so (just didn’t comment much before), but it didn’t use to be this way. Yeah, sometimes, comments got aggressive, but I wouldn’t characterize them as catty. Usually people can be civil enough on this lovely site. These past couple days, though, things have really gotten out of hand.

  3. Paul Funkhouser says:

    some people are obsessed. I can start a topic about fruit and somehow the DCSE would get dragged into it. The topic is about jail overcrowding. People violate the laws for various reasons and need to be locked up. we need to find a place to put them. period.

  4. Dave Briggman says:

    Funkhouser, if you read the entire thread you’ll see that I posted state statistics regarding the jail’s population…the 2nd most populous group is those in jail on civil (not criminal) contempt charges relating to non-payment.

    Nice about the “liberals” who maintain this blog…whoever’s moderating it now blocked my IP from even reading the blog.

    “Tolerance”…everyone has it except liberals.

  5. Dave Briggman says:

    And if you must know, there’s still “good” caselaw that says a man has no duty to support his children outside of his own home, specifically:

    “A father’s duty to support his children is based largely upon his right to their custody and control. To say the least of it, he has the right at common law to maintain them in his own home, and he cannot be compelled against his will to do so elsewhere, unless he has refused or failed to provide for them where he lives.”

    The case is Butler v. Comonwealth, 132 Va. 609 (1922).

  6. Jeremy,

    Yes, Staunton is having some problems. But would they be better off if their jail was downtown? Even if Blackfriars right now is not doing as well as it has in the past, I still regret they are not in Harrisonburg. Would rather have both them and Rosetta Stone downtown than the jail.

  7. Emmy says:

    Dave, your comments are coming through, so you aren’t blocked. Have you cleared your cookies or cache? I wasn’t able to use my web-based e-mail yesterday until I did that. As far as I know, no one here blocked you from doing anything.

    However, this is kind of going off topic. Sure, you can argue there are too many people in jail for non-payment of support, but currently your issues aren’t being fixed and until they are the issue is what to do with the current population and the projected future population (assuming nothing changes).

  8. Emmy says:

    Oh and I’ve been having trouble accessing the blog on and off all week.

  9. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Barkley and Deona, to clarify my comparison to Staunton, I wasn’t really talking about whether or not they had a jail downtown. I was trying to say that while it is appealing to say that the downtown should be an “arts and culture” area, we need to make sure that it also has enough other stuff to be economically buoyant, even in tough times.

    A lot of folks here seem to have a real NIMBY attitude about the jail. Yes, it WOULD have been nice for the folks way back when to have a different vision for that part of downtown Harrisonburg, but it’s what we have, and it’s going to need to expand, and it does provide moderate economic benefit to the area (after all, the employees and visitors to the jail also shop and eat downtown too). I would love it if for whatever reasons the jail population in Harrisonburg did decline. However, this is not likely to happen and we need to look at realistic solutions for its expansion.

  10. Brooke says:

    Dave, I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I think we’ve taken this topic far enough off course, and it’s only going to get more negative if we continue. Just suffice it to say that I disagree that the answer to the problem is to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and I doubt we’ll agree as to how to fix some of the problems with the current system. ;-)

  11. Dave Briggman says:

    Brooke, you can disagree with me all you want, but facts are facts, DCSE has been violating the substantive rights of non-custodial parents for 20-years…and it is now coming back to bite them in the butt.

    Will I try to take down the entire system? Yes.

    Will you disagree with my actions and intent? Yes

    Ironic how libs raise a stink about something, then run for the hills when confronted with facts — or just totally ignore the facts right in front of them.

  12. Dave,

    You may well be right in the moral and legal sense, and these people should not be put in the jail. But, as Emmy points out, if you or we or whomever does not change that, then indeed we must face the question of what to do with the jail population that is and will be.

  13. Dave Briggman says:

    No argument there, Professor Rosser.

    I suggested years ago when I ran for Supervisor in District Two that the County acquire a nice chunk of land, throw four fences up with guards in towers on all four corners with automatic weapons and populate that community with Canvas tenting.

    This would allow the current jail to be used to house the federal prisoners, which I believe makes the jail more money as compared to local or state inmates…let our local offenders spend their days and nights in their community where they actually raise their own food, clean their own clothes, and provide them some incentive not to come back.

  14. Dave Briggman says:

    FWIW, the minutes from the organizational meeting of the County Board of Supervisors state that the current “average” jail population is 320/day…10 people are committed to jail on a daily basis.

  15. Brooke says:

    Dave, you said: “Ironic how libs raise a stink about something, then run for the hills when confronted with facts — or just totally ignore the facts right in front of them.”

    On the contrary – at some point arguing something into the ground becomes an exercise in futility, and like others pointed out, it was getting nasty, and taking the topic off track. I decided the gracefully bow out. No running involved. :-)

  16. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Yeah Dave I just noticed those figures too…if that’s true that means they’re ahead of projections for prison population. Eep!

  17. Paul Funkhouser says:

    i think our favorite poster should share their inside view of the jail

  18. Peppa says:

    Is there any way to add up all the positive dollars that RS would bring to the area? (profit dollars) Including the retailers and restarants over the same life time of a new jail. So, if the new jail would cost, let’s say, $81 million dollars to build, then you would have something to compare it to.

  19. Peppa,

    This will depend on what you are counting. Isiit just the balance sheet of the city government or the balance sheet of the entire city economy? Here is a rough estimate for the entire economy, although there all sorts of things that can push this up or down. But, let us assume that the 100 new jobs will pay $50,000 per year each (or on average, although I think that this is to be the minimum pay for these jobs, making the average higher). At 100 employees at that pay, that is a net direct increase of $5 million per year. Applying a 1.5 multiplier, which I think is not unreasonable, and that goes up to $7.5 million per year. The payback time would be about 11 years.

  20. Now that the City Council has voted to confirm the Rosetta Stone deal, I will note that I have been told by a knowledgeable source that there is land available for a jail expansion besides what will now become the Rosetta Stone property, and that while one cannot build up from the existing jail, there is no reason one could not build a new taller structure on the same site. Apparently the city and county could have built the current jail in a way that one could have built up, but cheaped out on it and built it in a way that one cannot. Penny wise and pound foolish, as they say.

  21. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Hey Barkley, thanks for passing that along. One problem with building a new structure on the same site – cost of building an entirely new facility (again, a similar-sized one was recently projected to cost 81 million) and where to put the prisoners while you’re tearing down and building anew. Isn’t there an old joke about that?

  22. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    And…now we’re going to begin the chorus of why we need to expand the jail. And wouldn’t you know it, we just sold the plot of land that would let us do it cheaply a few months ago.

    DNR has removed the article that Scott referenced in one of his first comment with a quote from Sheriff Farley indicating everything was A-OK.

  23. Confused says:

    C’mon, what were they thinking?

  24. On January 19 of this year, a DNR article quoted Farley as saying a new jailed wouldn’t be needed for four or five years. Amazingly coincidental that the amount of this contract with Middle River Regional Jail is equal to the anticipated revenues for the new meals tax, huh?

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