Marshals accept WTRJ’s contract

Published 8:09 pm Monday, December 30, 2013

The U.S. Marshals Service has accepted a contract from the Western Tidewater Regional Jail to keep some of its prisoners at the Suffolk facility, Superintendent William C. Smith said Monday.

The federal service said in August it would pull most of its prisoners from the local jail, striking budget-related fear into the hearts of officials in Suffolk, Franklin and Isle of Wight County, the three localities that cooperate on the Western Tidewater Regional Jail. Local jails in Virginia keep federal prisoners and charge a daily rate per prisoner, which represents a major funding source for many of the smaller jails — nearly 20 percent of the budget for Western Tidewater Regional Jail.

The U.S. Marshals made the move after receiving an unsolicited proposal from the Virginia Beach jail that undercut Western Tidewater’s rate. But after an outcry from other local jails and maneuvering by politicians, the U.S. Marshals agreed to put everything on hold until other jails could submit proposals.

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“We appreciate them placing everything on hold,” Smith said Monday. “I’m happy they got back to us so quickly. My understanding was they were expediting things.”

Western Tidewater’s rate now matches the bid Virginia Beach made. The jail will receive $55 per day, per inmate, and transportation costs will be included.

The jail formerly charged $65 per day, per inmate, with transportation to court appearances, medical appointments and other necessities on top of the daily charge.

Smith said the U.S. Marshals will have to keep at least 75 of their inmates in Western Tidewater Regional Jail to get the free transportation and other perks in the new agreement.

Even though the offer was accepted, the lower rate is likely to cause a budget shortfall next year, a burden that must be borne by the three localities. The worst-case scenario would mean a $2.4 million gap, of which Suffolk would have to cover $1.6 million. The gap will get smaller if more federal prisoners are kept at the jail.

“It would depend on the numbers and what the jail authority wants to budget on,” Smith said.

“Obviously that’s good news that the marshal’s service has accepted our quote, which puts us on a level playing field with Virginia Beach,” said Mike Duman, a city councilman and member of the jail board. “It’s still going to be somewhat trying, but not as catastrophic as actually losing the federal inmates.”

He said jail officials would likely sign the contract next week and return it by Jan. 15.