The cost of running Middle River facility among lowest in Va.
By Alex Bridges
As construction moves forward on the area's next regional jail in Warren County, questions remain about future operational costs.
A facility in Staunton found ways to keep down the operational cost to house inmates. The Middle River Regional Jail in fiscal year 2011 spent the least amount per day per inmate to house prisoners among correctional facilities in the northern region of the state, and fourth lowest statewide, according the most recent figures provided in a Virginia Compensation Board report.
Much of the cost-cutting measures at Middle River are the result of "thinking outside the box," according to administrative Major Eric Young.
"It's basically about managing as tight as you can manage it," Young said. "We don't cut corners by any means. I have to say that our staff does an excellent job at managing our different divisions, whether it be medical or food service."
Middle River Regional Jail spent $47.07 per inmate per day in operational costs in fiscal 2011, according to the report.
That same period Warren County Jail spent the next lowest amount at $47.92 while Shenandoah County showed a cost of $59.33. Rockingham County spent $56.83 on each inmate per day; Page County spent $58.65. However, in that same period Rappahannock County Jail spent $97.77 per inmate per day.
The next nearest regional jail, the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center in Frederick County, also serves Clarke and Fauquier counties and Winchester. The NRADC spent $70.19 per day per inmate in fiscal 2011.
Exactly how much it will cost the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail to house inmates when it opens in July 2014 remains uncertain. Estimates show the facility can expect to pay $54.97 per inmate each day beginning in fiscal 2016, according to information from Davenport & Company dated June 21. The information anticipates that rate will increase each year, typical for all jails.
RSW Jail Authority Board Chairman Douglas Stanley said Friday the facility would strive to keep costs down. But the jail also must meet minimum standards and requirements that will keep the facility from cutting costs in some areas.
Middle River opened in 2006 and holds between 430-450 inmates. At one time the jail had nearly 850 inmates double-bunked and the design allows the $42 million facility to hold approximately 1,500 inmates when expanded.
However Young said that Middle River's per-inmate cost increased in 2012 by approximately $10 because the jail lost revenue when it stopped holding prisoners for other localities. The jail had received $2-4 million a year to house inmates from other localities. At one time, Middle River kept approximately 200 inmates from Loudoun County, according to Young. The jail has taken inmates from Roanoke and other localities as well.
"When the going was we were getting it but right now with the opening of several new regional jails -- and the DOC has been instrumental in relieving some of the overcrowding in some of the regional jails -- and I reckon just through attrition there's just not as much overcrowded conditions and there's not that great of a need anymore," Young said.
Middle River Regional Jail also continues to pay off the debt incurred to build the facility. The jail pays $2.5 million per year on the loan for the project, which figures into the per diem cost.
"The debt service does make a difference," Young said. "So the debt service does create more cost per day per inmate."
As Young explained, at one point each participating locality paid approximately $750,000. The debt payments have doubled for each locality in the current budget cycle, according to Young.
"There's not ... much you cut [from] costs in a facility," Young said. "You can cut your food costs to a certain extent but there are certain dietary needs you have to do.
"Same way with medical: You get one medical situation that could cost the jail a tremendous amount of money," Young added. "If you have an inmate in the facility and goes to the local hospital and is in intensive or whatever it may be and runs up a three or $400,000 bill then the localities are stuck with that."
"Newer" may not translate to "cheaper to run."
"In a new facility you wouldn't think you'd have much maintenance costs but when the facility's operating 365 days a year, 24 hours a day ... things wear out faster so there's more of a cost," Young said.
Young compared jails to hospitals that also operate constantly.
The state report touted the regional jails for boasting lower operation costs than many local facilities -- a fact evident when comparing Middle River to facilities in Shenandoah and Warren counties. Officials with the RSW board have said a regional jail could bring down costs for the localities that operate their own facilities.
However, the local jails in those counties spent less per inmate per day than the nearest regional facility in Frederick County. The Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center, which serves Winchester and the counties of Clarke, Frederick and Fauquier, spent $70.19 per inmate per day in operating costs in fiscal 2011.
It remains to be seen if the RSW inmate costs will fall closer to Middle River or to NRADC or exceed that of the latter. If the June 21 estimates hold true, then RSW's costs per diem would fall below the current rates at Shenandoah and Rappahannock
The RSW Jail authority will use the number of inmates provided by each participating locality to determine that county's share of the cost to house each prisoner per day. Information provided by the authority has indicated that Warren County will likely pay a higher share of the cost because it is anticipated that locality will provide more inmates than Shenandoah or Rappahannock Counties.
If trends remain as seen in the report, the RSW likely would rely more on the localities than the state for operational funds. State money made up 62.97 percent of the fiscal 2011 budget for Warren County Jail and 45.05 percent for Shenandoah County Jail. Northwestern Regional Jail's budget consisted of 39.11 percent state funding. Rappahannock County received 55.35 percent of its revenue from the state that year, showing that a regional jail could mean a lower cost to that locality.
Young also credited the jail's large work-release program that generates funds for the facility
The jail tracks what it costs daily to feed inmates.
The jail also receives donations of food from various community sources, which keeps the cost low.
"Medically we're very fortunate to have a good medical staff," "We have a good amount of inmates that are on medication but we also have a physician that just doesn't give medications to be giving them. Our doctor's very frugal when it comes to the implementation of medication."
The staff physician also often takes care of inmates who experience a major medical emergency rather than always sending the prisoner to a hospital.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org