RSW jail hits snags in opening days

By Alex Bridges and Joe Beck

FRONT ROYAL — Less than two weeks after its opening, the new regional jail in Warren County is still experiencing growing pains.

The Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail on U.S. 340-522 opened for business July 1 after taking in prisoners from the three counties. Acting Superintendent Russell Gilkison talked Friday about the jail’s start up that he admitted, at times, did not go smoothly.

“There’s definitely bumps but everybody expected bumps,” Gilkison said. “It’s just with new staff and a new facility, inmates that have never been in a facility like this. You know there’s challenges with that.”

The jail has had no major incidents, Gilkison said.

“Are we at 100 percent yet, perfect in all our operations? Absolutely not,” Gilkison said.

But the superintendent, who compared the jail’s opening to that of any large, complex facility, said he expects to see improvements. The jail’s video visitation system went online last weekend to allow inmates and visitors to see and talk to each other. The jail does not offer the traditional visitation in which people see and talk to each other through glass and telephones. But Gilkison said those two ways aren’t much different.

Attorneys also have used the system to speak to their clients, Gilkison said.

The jail’s video system for its magistrate — necessary both for arresting officers and the courts — is not yet online. The equipment is in place but the state needs to bring it online, Gilkison said. The superintendent said he’s been told the system would come online the week of July 21.

“We’re definitely gonna be eager to get that in place because it is causing us a little logistic problems doing a lot of transports because we don’t have the video system in place,” Gilkison said.

Since July 1 the jail, with two vans, has had to transport 109 inmates to courts in the three counties. Of those, 32 were to appear for bond hearings. This past Monday the jail transported 52 people to court and had no issues.

In interviews last week, Strasburg police Chief Tim Sutherly and Shenandoah County Sheriff Tim Carter confirmed that neither the magistrate nor the Breathalyzer were available to officers at the jail. Sutherly worked out a deal with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office to use its equipment.

“I definitely know there have been glitches,” Sutherly said last week. “I know there are issues. Like everything else, they will be worked out. You can’t open an outhouse without their being some glitches. It’s the same with a big jail.”

Sutherly said the state’s crime lab in Richmond is in charge of training officers on how to use the Breathalyzer.

Carter wouldn’t criticize the jail and its operations.

“It’s a new facility, and you’re going to have bumps in the road with any new facility,” Carter said. “There are coordination issues that are being worked out.”

Assistant public defender Peter McDermott last week downplayed the delays he experienced while trying to see clients at the jail.

“It’s a little slow, but we’ve been able to get in,” McDermott said. “It just takes a little time, that’s the biggest problem,”

Gilkison admitted the jail experienced some other hiccups early on: Father and son inmates were mixed up in a court date; four prisoners were taken to a local court that was not in session. With the latter issue, Gilkison said his employees did not know the court was not in session that day.

“Those things are gonna happen,” Gilkison said. “Anytime you’ve got the human element in place people are going to make mistakes.”

The superintendent noted that “communication is key” in these situations among all parties involved but he said those have quickly been worked out.

As for attorneys who, in the early days, traveled to the jail but couldn’t see their clients, Gilkison suggested that they contact the facility ahead of time to find out the schedule.

The superintendent admitted the jail’s lone receptionist saw a lot of visitors come through the doors. Visitation has tapered down, Gilkison said.

However, on Friday afternoon a couple of people stood near the receptionist’s area, one waiting to see a prisoner released and the other to collect a prisoner’s belongings. Both complained about waiting for a long time in the lobby before being helped by a jail officer.

Woodstock resident Charlene Miller said she waited six hours Thursday to pick up a family friend set for release on bail but nothing happened. Miller waited another 3½ hours Friday. Miller said she had to go to the magistrate in Front Royal to bail out her friend.

“Nobody seems to know anything,” Miller said.

The transition from three local jails to one regional facility has had some issues. Local jails couldn’t always release their employees to train at the new facility and operate in the counties at the same time, Gilkison said. The jail is still trying to fill vacancies for corrections officers and nurses.

“The main difference here is the dynamic of bringing three counties, three different sheriff’s offices with employees from three different sheriff’s offices, plus new hires, all in at the same time,” Gilkison said.

The jail had 289 male inmates and 51 female inmates as of Friday. At its highest count the jail has had 360 inmates with an average count of 347 for July so far. The jail is designed to house 375 inmates without double bunking.

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

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com