Jail cuts delayed

Published 11:12 pm Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Believing political forces in Washington will resolve the situation behind the scenes, the Western Tidewater Regional Jail Authority’s board voted Wednesday to delay any cost-cutting decisions resulting from the loss of federal inmates at the facility.

The fee of $65 per inmate, per day the jail receives from the federal government for housing its inmates is a major revenue stream for the jail — 15 to 19 percent of its budget, jail Superintendent William C. Smith said in Wednesday’s meeting. But most of that revenue has been placed in jeopardy within the last two weeks, after the Virginia Beach jail made a bid to house inmates at a cheaper price.

“This situation remains pretty fluid at the moment,” Smith said in Wednesday’s meeting, called especially to discuss the situation. “Every day we’re getting some different updates and some different information.”


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Virginia Beach made an offer to keep inmates for $55 per day, including transportation to court dates and other needs, Smith said. Western Tidewater’s higher fee, which has been the same almost since the jail opened, did not include transportation.

Smith said the jail was notified two weeks ago that the U.S. Marshals Service would begin pulling its inmates Oct. 1. The Western Tidewater Regional Jail still would keep some because Virginia Beach could not hold them all.

Smith said the marshals claimed the move was purely for economic reasons. However, that doesn’t measure up when considering the Norfolk jail demands only $41 per inmate per day, several people noted at Wednesday’s meeting.

Despite the supposed beginning date more than a month away, 43 inmates were moved last week, Smith said.

But a meeting of area sheriffs, and the involvement of congressional representatives, got the wheels moving in the other direction and gave local officials hope the problem will be resolved permanently with no further action on their end.

After officials in Washington got wind of the situation, the marshals agreed to stop moving inmates and to allow Western Tidewater Regional Jail to take new inmates coming into the system, Smith said. The jail received five new federal inmates on Friday and picked up 27 already this week. It is on notice to pick up an additional 13 later in the week.

If the policy doesn’t change, the jail could lose about $2.7 million from its annual budget, Smith said. But local officials were optimistic that federal involvement would produce a change.

“I suspect in the next 30 days, we might see some significant changes,” said Suffolk Sheriff Raleigh Isaacs Sr., who sits on the authority’s board and made the motion to table the matter until the next regular meeting, set for Sept. 11. “I think it’s going to work out.”

Curtis Byrd, district director in Congressman J. Randy Forbes’ office, attended Monday’s meeting and said Forbes, along with Congressmen Scott Rigell and Bobby Scott, have been proactive in addressing the issue.

“This is clearly of very high interest to Congressman Forbes,” he said, describing a phone call Forbes had with Justice Department officials in Washington. “There was a bit of a disconnect between what’s happening on the ground and what Washington is aware of.”

Byrd said Forbes also planned to look at the issue from a legislative perspective, investigating whether the current process of “intergovernmental agreements” that can be changed on a whim is tied to some legislative language, and whether it should be changed to a traditional procurement process.

“I think that we ought to make sure whatever the process is, it’s fair and transparent,” Byrd said.

Smith, the jail superintendent, said after the meeting he was encouraged by the recent developments. He had laid out possible spending cuts including eliminating non-mandated training and freezing hiring except on essential positions.

He had also proposed the possibility of lowering the jail’s rate to undercut Virginia Beach, or attempting to attract federal inmates from the U.S. Marshal’s office in North Carolina.