Sheriffs use old jails as holding areas

Shenandoah sheriff cites security risks with fewer deputies

By Alex Bridges

Sheriffs in Shenandoah and Warren counties have had a few weeks to test how they handle prisoners waiting for court.

The opening of the Rappahannock- Shenandoah- Warren Regional Jail on July 1 left each of the counties with vacant facilities. The Shenandoah and Warren county sheriffs planned ahead to use their old jails as temporary holding areas for inmates.

Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy C. Carter said Thursday the Board of Supervisors’ choice to not fund his request for deputies has created a risky situation. Carter, who wouldn’t go into details about his department’s security operations, spoke generally about security on Wednesday — a grand jury term day that often means dealing with dozens of prisoners waiting their turn for Circuit Court.

“We did the best we could but we’re moving inmates with less people,” Carter said. “We’re moving people that have showed up for indictments and, again, we normally relied on jail staff to do that.

“We don’t have those positions anymore so, to me, that’s a risky thing to do, when you have less staff to handle those inmate movements,” Carter added.

The holding area in the Shenandoah County Circuit Court can safely fit about a half-dozen people, Carter said. In the past, Carter’s deputies would bring inmates out to the holding area a few at a time during court proceedings. At those times, Carter’s office had deputies specifically assigned to the jail who guarded over the inmates as they waited to go to court. Without those jailers, Carter said he has had to try to make do with the existing staff.

At the old Warren County Jail on Tuesday afternoon, about a dozen inmates stood or sat shackled in small area while deputies processed the prisoners. Female inmates stayed in a smaller cell separated from the male prisoners in the booking area. Deputies escorted prisoners one by one down a hallway.

Neither jail requires major alterations or improvements, sheriffs said this week. The jails still have video surveillance equipment, cells and working plumbing. Carter said he expects to see improvements to the processing area of the old jail to begin within the next week or so.

Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron said Monday his agency is looking into making modifications to the old jail, possibly using the kitchen and outdoor recreation area. The goal is to create one space to hold the prisoners as they wait for court.

“That’ll allow us to maintain inmates a little easier,” McEathron said.

The agency then can shut down unused areas of the old jail, allowing the department to save on utility costs. McEathron said he expects to have a plan in place in the next month or so.

When the regional jail opened July 1, sheriffs in the three counties lost state money they received to cover the salaries of their jail officers. That money now goes to the RSW Regional Jail. Sheriffs expected this and asked their respective boards of supervisors for help. In Warren County’s case, the Board of Supervisors approved an increase in the real estate tax rate to generate more revenue, part of which would cover McEathron’s request for more deputies assigned to court security. McEathron said sheriffs’ offices also received some funding from the Compensation Board to help cover deputy salaries.

“We still have to manage inmates during the day and those volumes change,” McEathron said. “Right now we’re working with staff to be able to manage the movement of inmates because obviously if an inmate has to go to court then a jailer takes him and then another jailer has to watch all the other inmates in there.”

In Shenandoah County’s case, Carter’s request for money to do much the same went unfulfilled.

“The only thing that I asked the board to do was to allow me to retain the funding for part-time positions that the jail had previously,” Carter said. “That was part of what was recommended in the staffing study: before the board cut or eliminated those funds and that ability to handling those staffing needs, allow us to keep that funding intact until we had a clearer picture of what the new environment would be like.”

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