Group recommends low-cost option for jail transports

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK — Shenandoah County could solve prisoner transport issues to the new Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail for town police agencies at little cost, officials said Tuesday.

A group of government and law enforcement representatives recommend that Shenandoah County turn the booking area of the local jail in Woodstock into space for police officers from southern and central towns to process arrests.

County Administrator Mary Beth T. Price and New Market Town Manager Evan Vass presented the group’s report to the Board of Supervisors at its regular meeting. Supervisors asked questions but took no direct or indirect action on the report and its recommendations.

“We looked at a variety of pros and cons associated with costs, both capital and recurring, public safety, which is the provision we’re trying to meet, as well as officer safety,” Vass said.

He told the board that town and county officials reached a compromise on a possible solution to the issues related to prisoner transport to the new jail, which will open next July in a facility being built on U.S. 340-522 near Front Royal.

Sheriff Timothy Carter recommended that his office would need three deputies to take arrestees from Woodstock to the regional jail for the town agencies. The report estimates the cost of running the processing area at $152,349. That covers the salaries and benefits of three sheriff’s deputies. The amount does not include the cost for equipment and building improvements.

Carter explained to the board that not all positions at the local jail can transfer to the regional facility. The Sheriff’s Office can retain three of the positions funded by the State Compensation Board, he said. The county currently covers 37 percent — or $56,328 — of the salaries, while the state pays the remaining amount, Carter said.

“The Compensation Board realizes that with the change to the new system there’s going to be an increase in workload with regard to transportation, support services and things of that nature and that’s why those three positions will be able to remain in the Sheriff’s Office,” Carter said.

The Sheriff’s Office would not seek three new positions, Carter said.

Board Chairman Conrad Helsley questioned the number of deputies needed to provide transportation for town police. During the presentation, Helsley provided figures on staff hours he said shows that the Sheriff’s Office would not need as many deputies as Carter recommends.

Helsley cited a study of the Sheriff’s Office staffing needs that says the agency should add two deputies. Carter argued that the study uses 11-month-old data and that not all the local jail officers are certified as deputies and thus would require training.

The county would not staff the processing area. Rather, the officers would process arrestees using equipment supplied by the county. Officers would either release the person or take the arrestee to the regional jail. A sheriff’s deputy, if available, would transport the arrestee to the jail.

Vass told the board that all arrests are different and, in some cases, the officer may choose to take the arrestee straight to the regional jail. Likewise, police officers would do this if the Sheriff’s Office is busy.

The processing area would contain a video conferencing system for officers to talk to a magistrate at the regional jail, a temporary holding cell, a scanner for fingerprints, and breath alcohol testing equipment issued by the Department of Forensic Science.

Carter said his agency would be able to cover the equipment costs. Other costs at an estimated $19,800 would include installation of an automated lock and entry, modifications to the heating and cooling system and plumbing alterations.

Town and county representatives met several times from May through September to discuss possible solutions. The study group also included Woodstock Police Chief Eric Reiley, county Budget Manager Garland Miller and Helsley.

Other options and estimated costs as discussed by the group included:

  • $562,000 to staff the county jail 24 hours a day, seven days a week as a lock-up facility
  • $138-$200 per trip for New Market police officers to take arrestees to the regional jail
  • $461,000 for a pooled transport system by the regional jail plus $351,000 in annual costs for personnel, fuel and vehicle maintenance

Officials in their discussions also used a Matrix Consulting Group staffing study of the Sheriff’s Office and the emergency communications center. The study, which supervisors voted later in the meeting to receive, recommended that the Sheriff’s Office expand its ranks by two deputies.

Also at the meeting, Cindy Bailey, former chief of the county jail, spoke to the board during a public comment period. Bailey, also an outspoken opponent of the regional jail project, told the board the county should use the entire local facility for the work release program. Such a program, she said, would receive state funding. Bailey said that an official with the Department of Corrections told her that the county should convert the jail to work release.

Bailey expressed concerns about safety for the law enforcement agents who would be alone at the processing center with the arrestees.

After the meeting, Supervisor David Ferguson said he talked to an official at the Department of Criminal Justice Services and learned that once the regional jail opens the county facility would cease to exist as a jail. The county would no longer receive state funding for services it conducted in the former jail such as work release. Ferguson said the regional would run its own work-release program at the Warren County facility.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com