By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- The RSW Regional Jail Authority should hire a superintendent at least a year before the new facility opens, according to an official overseeing the project.
The transition committee of the authority board at its first meeting Thursday touched upon issues facing the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren Regional Jail two years before its scheduled opening. Warren County Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron serves as chairman of the committee, along with fellow authority board members.
Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy Carter expressed concern that the authority would need to hire a superintendent well enough in advance of the opening to begin the process of staffing the regional jail. McEathron noted the construction timeline included the hiring of a superintendent before the opening. Carter advised the authority should start the selection process sooner than later, to which members agreed. That means the authority likely should begin the search by December or January.
Carter reiterated his concerns at the full authority board meeting the agency would need to hire the person well before one year ahead of opening to address salaries and benefits and staffing as well as other aspects of running the facility. McEathron at the board meeting concurred with Carter.
"It's a daunting task and I think we need to pay attention to that," Carter told the board, adding that the superintendent should also have his or her own transition committee because the sheriffs may not have time to handle the issues a chief would.
The committee, before the jail opens, also must address how to staff the facility.
McEathron noted at the transition committee that the authority faces the task of bringing jail officers who work at facilities in each of the three counties and aligning their pay and benefits. The committee would need to look at how each locality compensates its jail officers and which of those pay and benefit scales would work best, if any, for the regional facility.
"In my experience It's certainly the biggest piece of the puzzle because there are certainly existing staff coming over and that's a huge concern," said Chris Webb, a consultant working with the authority.
Officials indicated no employees currently working at the local jails would see a reduction in status or rank, but members noted present staff would likely be evaluated before being hired to work at the regional facility. Workers wouldn't see their pay cut if the authority chooses a uniform scale for salaries and benefits, officials said.
"I don't think we're going to invent anything here," McEathron said, noting that the authority should look at what other jails did in the transition.
The regional jail also would need to pick which training academy it would use. Currently Shenandoah County uses a different academy than Warren and Rappahannock counties.
Transportation of prisoners would depend on which agency -- local sheriff's offices or the regional jail -- has custody and thus the responsibility, according to McEathron. Much of the custody and transportation of prisoners will depend on whether localities retain their local jails and continue to use the facilities for temporary holding. The Virginia Department of Corrections will not recognize holding cells or lock-up facilities run by the counties should any of the participating localities decide to maintain their current jail facilities for those uses, according to McEathron. The sheriff explained a subcommittee would look into any issues they may face with the DOC. Localities may need to look at the certain certifications required to use jails as lock-up areas, McEathron said.
Once the localities stop using the jails for their original purposes, the state will not compensate the counties and the cost to run the facilities as holding areas would fall on the counties, according to McEathron.
Carter expressed concern over the amount of time and manpower it may take for his agency and others to address the needs for records keeping systems. The sheriff noted the authority and the committee have less than two years to make the necessary preparations.