Regional jail members want more state funding

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By Landmark News Service

DUBLIN — It has been two years since the eight localities that are members of the New River Valley Regional Jail authority stopped paying for state-responsible inmates. And now they’re asking state legislators to move those inmates out of the jail or pay up.
Until December 2010, the localities — consisting of the counties of Pulaski, Giles, Carroll, Wythe, Grayson, Bland and Floyd and the city of Radford — were paying for state inmates that were being housed in the jail because state facilities did not have room for them.

Gerald McPeak, the jail’s superintendent, said that if an inmate is sentenced to more than one year, the Virginia Department of Corrections has 60 days after receiving the sentencing order to transfer that inmate from the regional jail to a state facility.
However, since state facilities tend to be overcrowded, the state rarely makes those transfers, McPeak said.
Each locality in the regional jail’s authority pays $29.20 per inmate arrested in their locality and housed in the jail per day.
If a man is arrested in Dublin, for example, Pulaski County will pay that price for that individual for each day he remains in the jail. Until 2010, Pulaski County would have paid for that man until he left the facility — even if he became a state-responsible inmate along the way.
In 2010, the authority put its foot down.
“On the 61st day, the locality’s $29.20 now goes away,” McPeak said.
The state still pays $12 per state-responsible inmate per day.
The localities have saved thousands of dollars because they now pay absolutely nothing for inmates that become the state’s responsibility.
“We paid about $71,000 a month,” Giles County Sheriff Morgan Millirons said. “Now we’re down in the $60,000s.”
Nikki Shank, Carroll’s assistant county administrator and a member of the jail authority’s finance committee, said that since the localities no longer pay for state-responsible inmates, they have saved a total of $3,117,567.20 in the past two fiscal years.
According to a spreadsheet provided by Shank, Giles County, for example, would have had to pay the jail a total of $371,657.60 for state-responsible inmates in the last two fiscal years.
Pulaski County has saved the most, avoiding having to pay an additional $687,338.80, according to the spreadsheet.
“In these challenging economic times, the localities were able to retain the funding that would have gone to the jail to assist in local budget shortfalls related to other services such as education, public safety and/or economic development,” Shank said.
The jail had reserves built up to sustain the reduction in funding from the localities but “the financial condition of the jail will have to be closely monitored and adjusted if the need arises,” Shank said.
McPeak said that although inmates have not seen any reduction in services, the jail authority has seen a rather large reduction in revenue.
Where the localities would have paid the jail more than $3 million for state-responsible inmates in the last two fiscal years, the state has paid only $1,281,192, according to Shank.
And it costs the jail, on average, $16 a day to care and provide for one inmate, $4 more than the state is paying for each of their inmates per day.
And that’s why several localities in the authority have written letters in recent months to state legislators asking for assistance.
According to McPeak, the jail had 254 state-responsible inmates in November and has a daily average of 870 total inmates. The Virginia Department of Corrections rated the jail’s capacity at 859, though it has enough bunks for a total of 1,183 inmates. The jail has been over its rated capacity for several months, McPeak said.
Shank provided Carroll County’s letter to state legislators, dated Nov. 7, which requests “immediate assistance” in having state-responsible inmates relocated to state facilities. In the “event that it is not possible,” the letter requests that the state pay what the localities pay — $29.20 per day per inmate.
At this month’s jail authority meeting, several representatives of participating localities stressed the importance of continuing to reach out to state legislators through writing. Many are hoping that it’s an issue that will be addressed during the upcoming General Assembly session.
“The state responsible inmates are not only a cost burden to the NRVRJ members but also more importantly, present a staffing challenge,” Carroll County’s letter states. “The overcrowding places the staff in a challenging and unsafe position, which results in an inmate to jailer ratio that is untenable.”