D.C. disappointment

Published 10:35 pm Thursday, September 12, 2013

No marshal meeting, but congressmen collaborate

Local officials were disappointed Wednesday to arrive at a meeting in Washington, D.C., and find one of the people they wanted to talk to wasn’t there.

The U.S. Marshals Service sent no representative to the meeting set to discuss the removal of federal inmates from local jails, a move that has created gaps in the budgets of several local institutions, including Western Tidewater Regional Jail.

“I think we were a little disappointed there wasn’t a representative there from the Marshals Service,” Western Tidewater Regional Jail Superintendent William C. Smith said on Thursday.

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However, representatives of several affected localities, including Suffolk, were able to talk to Congressmen Randy Forbes, Bobby Scott and Rob Wittman.

The Suffolk delegation included Smith, Finance Director Anne Seward, Sheriff Raleigh Isaacs and Intergovernmental Affairs and Special Projects Manager Sherry Hunt.

The jail budget scare started last month, when Smith was notified the Marshals Service would begin removing federal inmates from the Western Tidewater Regional Jail in October.

Payments the jail receives for keeping the inmates are a significant revenue source — almost 20 percent of its budget. Without the $65 per day, per inmate fee, the three localities that participate in the jail — Suffolk, Franklin and Isle of Wight County — would have to kick in almost $3 million total to cover the gap for the rest of the fiscal year.

The move was made because the Virginia Beach Jail made an offer of a lower fee that included transportation to court appearances and other facilities, while Western Tidewater charges extra for transportation. Other local jails that kept federal inmates are in similar situations and also sent representatives to Wednesday’s meeting.

Soon after the notification came last month, the Marshals Service began moving prisoners despite saying it would not begin doing so until October. Federal lawmakers got involved at the behest of local officials, however, and some inmates were moved back.

The Western Tidewater Regional Jail Authority has met twice since the initial call and has delayed drastic cuts in the budget, believing politicians will be able to work behind the scenes to resolve the situation.

“We spoke with the congressmen,” Smith said. “They were very concerned, and they assured us they were going to do everything they could to remedy the situation. The director of the Marshals not being at the meeting was a setback, but they assured us they would push forward.”

In an emailed statement, Forbes said the meeting was a first step.

“Citizens deserve to know that the process by which their tax dollars are spent is open, transparent, fair, and results in the best value for their money,” he said. “Yesterday’s meeting was the first step in a bipartisan effort towards vigorous oversight to ensure there is a fair process in place and that all parties are operating on a level playing field.”