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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Do We Need More Space To Lock Up More Of Our Citizens?

Harrisonburg-Rockingham Regional Jail
County Administrator Joe Paxton and Board of Supervisors Chair Pablo Cuevas recently met with our Fellowship of Reconciliation breakfast group for a conversation on the problem of overcrowding at our local jail. The present facility, opened in 1994, was built to house 208, but has been double bunked and provided with extra mattresses to hold as many as 400, although the numbers have recently been reduced by having 76 persons kept at the Middle River Regional Jail near Verona.

Mr. Paxton provided the following breakdown of numbers, representing a snapshot of a recent jail census:

114 inmates awaiting trial for wide range of offenses
  92 awaiting a probation trial hearing
  85 actually serving a sentence (if over six months, will be sent to a state prison)
  29 serving sentence for pending charges
  23 prisoners awaiting Federal trial
__3 Virginia Department of Corrections prisoners
346 Total

(An additional 76 are housed at Middle River Detention Center and 198 are out on bond and under Pretrial Supervision)

Paxton sees the City and County having to either add space to the existing facility, build an additional medium security one elsewhere or partner with Augusta County to use extra space at the Middle River facility.

Other options discussed at our meeting included mandatory house arrest (with use of GPS monitoring) which could allow persons to be employed and pay for things like fines, court costs, child support, etc. Another was to create a medium security facility with less expensive dormitory style housing and work release options for non-violent offenders. The latter appears to be favored by Mr. Cuevas, who presented some excellent ideas about helping offenders get their lives together rather than simply keeping them locked up for longer and longer periods of time.

I hope the City and County can generate a lot of good ideas from local citizens for alternatives to expensive incarceration options. For example, could we have more residential treatment and supervised employment programs like the Harrisonburg Diversion Center (formerly Camp 8) and Gemeinschaft Home (on Mt. Clinton Pike) for non-violent offenders?

People we have incarcerated are our neighbors. What ideas do you have for how to better help them live responsibly and keep our community safe?

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