Jail funding reprieve for localities

Published 11:04 pm Friday, April 12, 2013

For the coming year at least, Suffolk, Franklin and Isle of Wight County won’t need to contribute money for the operation of Western Tidewater Regional Jail, Suffolk Sheriff Raleigh H. Isaacs Sr. says.

After the General Assembly passed a budget amendment offsetting payments to the state linked to housing federal inmates, the Suffolk facility will have enough money for 2013-2014 without local contributions, according to Isaacs, who sits on its board.

Area delegates Chris Jones and Rick Morris collaborated on the amendment, which will offset payments to the state by $431,000.

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Under a 2005 revision, the state code requires the jail to pay Virginia a portion of costs associated with housing federal inmates, a service that generates income.

The law was intended to cover a portion of the state’s contribution toward constructing correctional facilities housing federal inmates.

But Virginia did not help fund the 1999 construction of that section of the Suffolk jail, WTRJ Superintendent William Smith said.

“In our case, we added on to the building and they gave us no staff and did not pay for the addition,” he said.

“Since 2005, we have returned over $1 million every year because of that legislation. There are exemptions, but we did not meet them.”

The addition to house federal inmates also required 30 new positions with no state contribution, Smith said.

In a news release, Morris called the payments “fundamentally unfair” to citizens in the three localities.

He called the budget amendment “a small step to help bring these funds back.”

Isaacs said the jail board will keep fighting for a better deal. “We still feel there’s (another) half a million dollars we should be getting back,” he said.

“We are going to continue pushing that legislative angle, and hopefully get additional funds.”

Morris stated that the budget amendment will let the jail add more staff to create “a safer environment” for employees, inmates and visitors. The jail is one of the state’s most understaffed local correctional facilities, he says.

Smith described staffing levels as “OK,” but said it has been costing local taxpayers. “That money is going to help offset some of that cost,” he said, adding no plans currently exist for more staff.

According to Isaacs, “There is a compression in some of the ranks out there, and hopefully we will be able to address that this budget cycle, for additional revenues for the employees.”

Smith said he understands the budget amendment will remain in place for subsequent years. He said he has worked toward a solution since becoming superintendent two years ago.

“When I initially came here, the jail authority board said we need to try to get some additional funding,” Smith said.

He thanked Jones, Morris and Sen. Harry Blevins for working on the issue in Richmond.