By Alex Bridges
WOODSTOCK -- Shenandoah County leaders face a decision on where to keep regional jail inmates waiting to appear in circuit court.
The Sheriff's Office keeps prisoners in the local jail and then officers escort inmates to the courtroom as necessary. The Sheriff's Office likely loses that option when the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail opens July 1, the local facility closes and corrections officers transfer to other law enforcement areas.
A circuit court judge has entered the discussion. Judge Dennis L. Hupp asked in a March 7 letter to Sheriff Timothy Carter and County Administrator Mary T. Price that they meet March 27 to discuss the matter.
"As you are aware, issues and concerns have been raised concerning plans for prisoner holding facilities serving the Circuit Court upon the opening of the Regional Jail," Hupp's letter states.
Board of Supervisors Chairman David Ferguson called a special meeting for March 27 at the Circuit Courthouse for the purpose of discussing prisoner holding facilities for the circuit court. Ferguson opened up the meeting to all supervisors.
"It's been brought up by the sheriff that he didn't feel that we had adequate facilities to temporarily hold the inmates that would show up for circuit court on the special days where we have large amounts of prisoners," Ferguson said by phone Tuesday.
But the issue shouldn't come as a surprise. Carter brought up his concerns over operational issues to supervisors more than seven years ago, the sheriff said Tuesday. Carter noted that this matter is one of those operational impacts of the regional jail.
The recent third-party staffing study paid for by the county addressed the issue of holding inmates for court, Carter said. A work group formed after the county received the study also looked into the matter. Recent discussions between the sheriff and county officials about the fiscal 2015 budget also have included this topic.
"To date, this operational matter has not been resolved," Carter said in an email.
As many as 35 inmates could show up for court, Ferguson noted, citing numbers given by Carter.
"Of course that would present a problem if you had to try to house that many prisoners at one time," he said.
Regional jail Superintendent Robert Mulligan has told the board that his facility, in charge of transporting inmates to the local courts, could take multiple trips during the course of a day to divide up the number of people brought at any one time.
"We will be discussing other things that we can do, what all of our options are," Ferguson said.
The chairman gave as an example the option to turn a small part of the existing jail into a temporary holding area for inmates awaiting court. Ferguson said the board would likely want to choose the least expensive but appropriate option.
"I think we're going to be able to come up with options that meet both the sheriff's concerns for adequate holding space and ours for keeping the cost down," Ferguson said.
The chairman said he expects the parties to come up with a solution in plenty of time before the new jail opens.
"Would I have liked to have addressed them sooner? Yes, I would have liked to have had this discussion sooner had the issue been put forward," Ferguson said.
The chairman noted the benefit of the board and other parties meeting with the judge to discuss the matter.
"If we don't take care of the judge's concerns and the sheriff's concerns and the board's concerns collectively, then I don't think whatever decision we'd come up with would be the right one if we did it in a vacuum," Ferguson said.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org