Feeling handcuffed

One-fourth of the inmates in Henrico’s jail are under extended temporary custody from the state, costing county taxpayers an estimated $6.5 million per year.

The state reimburses seven times less than what Henrico officials say it costs to house the inmates, and the sheriff’s department will have to repay the state under Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s plan to balance the budget shortfall. County officials worry the problem is likely to get worse following the closing of Powhatan correctional facility.

The county jail, designed to house offenders up to the date of their trial or sentencing and for no longer than one year, is functioning instead partially as a state prison.

Henrico County Sheriff Michael Wade acknowledged that the DOC inmates have contributed to overcrowding in the Henrico Jail West.

“Sometimes we've got guys doubling, tripling up or sleeping on the floor outside the cells,” said Wade.

According to the state’s Appropriation Act, the Virginia Department of Corrections is responsible for the intake of prisoners within 60 days of sentencing.

There is a 30-day grace period to allow for processing, creating a 90-day time limit that state prisoners can be held in a local jail. After that time period, the VADOC is supposed to move the prisoner to a state-run facility.

But the state is not following this practice in Henrico County.

According to figures from the State Compensation board, an average of 202 overdue state prisoners were being held in the county jail each night in 2013.

The state is responsible for any person convicted of a felony with a sentence of one year or more.

“They rarely pick anyone up for a year. That’s a tremendous number of people,” said Wade.

State budget cuts blamed
Larry Traylor, a spokesman for the VADOC stated that the high number of state prisoners in local jails can be attributed to budget cuts that closed several VADOC prisons last fall.

“This has forced us to relocate offenders from those recently closed facilities into our remaining facilities, meaning VADOC facilities are at capacity,” Traylor wrote in an e-mail to the Citizen.

The state pays the county $12 per day for housing the state inmates once they have reached the 90 day point, but county officials say that amount does not come close to covering the true cost of providing food, shelter, medical care, and rehabilitative services.

“The true cost is $89 per day,” said Henrico Budget Director Brandon Hinton. “The medical cost alone was $14 per day per inmate. Last year we had $7 million in expenses for medical costs, of which we get nothing back from the state – they say it is part of this $12 per day. It’s insane.”

The cost per inmate day in a VADOC facility is $74, meaning that the VADOC saves $62 per day that it keeps an inmate in a locally run jail.

“It is a situation of 'budget trumps code,'” said Hinton. “Although the code indicates [that] when prisoners must be transferred, if there is no money for those prisoners in the state budget, then the code becomes obsolete.”

“The big question is, who is responsible for these inmates?” said Wade. “You talk to state legislature, it’s local. You talk to local, it’s state. Sheriffs get batted back and forth.”

Localities now must reimburse state
The state provided $11.2 million in general operations funding to the Henrico Sheriff's Office in 2014. This money pays deputy salaries and is not tied to the cost of housing state inmates.

However, the county must repay a portion of these funds. The state Department of Planning and Budget sent out a letter on Nov. 14 to all counties and cities announcing that localities had to reimburse the state a total of $30 million collectively. Henrico’s share of this is $1.8 million; roughly $320,000 will come from the local jail-operating budget, and $62,000 will come from per-diem payments from the state for the fourth quarter.

John Jones, Executive Director of the Virginia Sheriffs' Association, said that some local sheriffs around the state wanted to house state prisoners in order to bring in revenue to their jails. However, many local jails, like Henrico, have said enough is enough.

“When you have a system that is overcrowded, all the systems are taxed,” said Jones. “Security is a big issue. You can imagine what happens when you put too many inmates in one facility.”

The influx of state prisoners has contributed to a steadily growing jail population in the county. When Wade took office in 2000, the jail held an average of 690 inmates per night. That number is now approaching 1,200 – roughly a quarter of whom are overdue for transfer to a state facility.

More deputies needed
The increase in the jail population is not entirely due to state prisoners being held beyond 90 days. The county’s population has grown over the past 14 years, and stricter sentencing guidelines have been put in place over that time period. Heroin convictions have increased, and leniency towards women offenders is a thing of the past.

As a result, the sheriff’s office plans to expand the jail over the next three years. There are plans in place to convert office space into alternative housing at Jail West and add an additional building for the female population at Jail East.

The sheriff contends that without the DOC prisoners, building additional cells would not be necessary.

“Yesterday there were 209 inmates that belong in the DOC in our facility,” Wade said. “You take them away and we don’t have to do any building.”

Despite an increase in the jail population approaching 100 percent, there has been no increase in staffing during Wade’s tenure.

Two different studies on inmate-to-officer ratios have been conducted by the state; one found that 55 additional deputies were needed at Henrico Jail West, and the other found that 80 additional deputies were needed.

Wade pointed out that in spite of all these factors, the jail continues to take on more and more prisoners.

“You know how many people a jail holds, don’t you?” Wade asked. “Always one more. We are open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. A jail can’t turn anyone away.”

Jones has seen this problem before.

“The way this always gets resolved is a sheriff files a suit and the court rules that the state has to take them,” Jones said. “It is repeated history. We get a backup in local jails, but then some sheriff somewhere files a suit, and we win those suits.”

Former Virginia Beach sheriff Paul Lanteigne successfully sued the state for housing inmates in the Virginia Beach jail in 1995.

Lanteigne sued again in 2008 but lost when the Virginia Beach Circuit Court ruled that, per the Appropriations Act, the director of the VADOC has the discretion to decide when prisoners are removed.

Pat O’Bannon, chairman of the Henrico County Board of Supervisors, said that the lack of funding from the VADOC for state-custody prisoners is indicative of a larger problem – the growing number of unfunded mandates that are handed down to the county each year.

“All these problems just roll downhill,” said O’Bannon. “When the federal government or state government passes a law but allocates no funding, it’s your local government that has to pay for it.”
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Reynolds CC dedicates student center

Reynolds Community College recently celebrated the dedication of the Jerry and Mary Owen Student Center, named for longtime supporters of the college who have made numerous investments in it.

Jerry Owen served on the Reynolds College Board from 1984 to 1988, and he and his wife support the college’s scholarship fund and created an endowment for the Reynolds Middle College, which helps students earn a high school equivalency and transition into a degree or workforce credential program. > Read more.

Capital One sponsors ‘Coders Experience’

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Hermitage band member named All-American

The U.S. Army All-American Bowl Presented by American Family Insurance Selection Tour will visit Hermitage H.S. Oct. 19 to recognize Truman Chancy as a 2018 U.S. Army All-American. Hermitage High School will honor Chancy before his classmates, bandmates, family and friends at the high school’s band room during band practice, and he will be presented with his honorary All-American Marching Band jacket. > Read more.

Crime Stoppers’ Crime of the Week: Oct. 16, 2017

This week, Metro Richmond Crime Stoppers is asking for the public to assist the Richmond Police Department in the identification of wayward artists that were using buildings as their canvas.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 14, four people were recorded on security cameras vandalizing multiple properties in the area of the 2500 blocks of West Main Street and Floyd Avenue. The suspects (pictured) were walking north on Robinson Street and spray painting the properties as they meandered along. > Read more.

Slipping through

Hermitage quarterback Jay Carney escapes defenders during the Panthers' 33-0 win against Godwin Friday night. Hermitage is 8-0 and has won its past four games by a combined score of 172-28. > Read more.

Henrico Business Bulletin Board

October 2017

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Kick start your Weekend on Wednesday at the Short Pump W.O.W. from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Short Pump Park, 3329 Pump Rd. Kids can explore the playground and four-legged friends can run in the dog park while you check out local food trucks for dinner. Danny Kensy will provide the entertainment. For details, call 652-1441 or visit http://www.henrico.us/rec. Full text

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