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Friday, August 3, 2012

A Letter Of Lament From The Lockup At Liberty Street

This week I received a handwritten letter signed by 29 inmates at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Regional Jail, written in response to one I had published in a recent issue of The Daily News-Record. In posting both letters here, I am intending to neither validate specific inmate complaints nor to show any disrespect for Sheriff Hutcheson, with whom a number of us have had some much appreciated opportunities to express concerns we have about our local jail.

Here’s my letter to the editor as it appeared in the DNR:

I was glad to hear our jail now offers some reentry education (DNR 7/14/12), but am confused by the statement, "One problem with work release is there's often a lack of inmates willing to volunteer for the program." I've never heard an inmate say that, and as a tax payer, I see only benefit in giving non-violent offenders more ways of providing for their families, paying their fines, and regaining their self respect.

In the words of Governor McDonnell, "Tough sentences are only half of the equation... We must provide real opportunities to prisoners to turn their lives around, and to become responsible and contributing members of society...."

An overcrowded jail with few opportunities for meaningful work or education will not help inmates do this. One answer is to apply recommendations made by the 2010 "Governor's Task Force on Alternative Sentencing for Non-violent Offenders," accessible  online.


Here’s the letter I received from the inmates this week:

This letter is regarding Sheriff Hutcheson’s comment in the newspaper stating that there are no work release programs because of insufficient interest by us us inmates. That comment by Mr. Hutcheson is absolutely backwards from the truth at hand. Once again we are made out to the public falsely as they want people to see us.

And here we sit with no way to control or speak on the problems we have, like an overcrowded jail with no boats for those who sleep on the floor, only two meals a day on weekends and holidays, and many other issues to speak about along with the work release program, but every time we send a request form or a grievance form regarding one of these problems or just ask about them, we get no response, as if they’re just throwing all of our problems away without any concern. Maintenance, food, bedding, programs, schooling and our thoughts are all underplayed, uncontrollable and uncertain...

I just hope and pray and put these problems in God’s hands, that someone might have a clear eye, some compassion, sympathy and give the time that is needed to help us and make things right.

This is a list of just some of the people (inmates) that are willing to sign their names to attest that we are truly interested in work release, along with any other programs or classes that can and will help us better ourselves now and for later re-entry to society.


(Signed by 29 citizens in one of the pods at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Regional Jail, 25 South Liberty Street in Harrisonburg)
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