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Some regional jail issues nearly fixed

Some Shenandoah County supervisors voice concern that that jail problems not shared with them

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK -- After weeks of delays, pieces of the regional jail in Warren County should fall into place soon, its chief said Friday.

The Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail north of Front Royal opened July 1 but without several integral features -- video arraignment, electronic fingerprinting and equipment used to test for blood-alcohol content.

Superintendent Russell Gilkison said Friday that Comcast came to the jail Wednesday to perform preliminary work on the systems. Once installed, workers with the Virginia Supreme Court can bring the systems online.

"You can kinda see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel," Gilkison said.

Work on the video arraignment system began in March and requests to the Virginia Supreme Court to do its part of the work went out at that time, Gilkison said. A conflict arose between the court and its contracted provider and only recently did the state agency recruit Comcast. Gilkison said the jail also needed to be occupied in order for systems to be installed.

The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors heard a brief update Thursday from County Administrator Mary T. Price on the jail's status. Supervisor Cindy Bailey criticized county officials for not keeping her informed on the work at the jail and said she has had to find out about the problems through the local newspapers.

Bailey asked Supervisor Conrad Helsley when he knew about the problems that have come to light at the jail that affect the ability of law enforcement officers to process prisoners. Helsley serves as the supervisors' representative on the RSW Regional Jail Authority Board.

"I didn't know that," Helsley said. "None of us knew that because it's controlled by the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court really just didn't get their motion going.

Price said she, too, did not know at the ribbon cutting held in mid June that some parts of the jail were not ready. Bailey continued to question if anyone associated with the jail knew about the problems it would face on opening. She then asked why the opening wasn't delayed if the problems had not been fixed.

"I just find it hard to believe that those people who sit on the authority did not know that we could not process inmates," Bailey said.

Bailey also questioned why the RSW Regional Jail would take prisoners from the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center in Frederick County if the facility in Warren County remains understaffed. In late July the jail had about 20 corrections officer vacancies it needed to fill.

Supervisors Chairman David Ferguson suggested that the board invite representatives of the jail, perhaps the superintendent, to present members with an update on the work at the jail.

Gilkison on Friday shed light on the "courtesy hold" deal the RSW Regional Jail has with the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center. The RSW Regional Jail started with 20 inmates from the facility near Winchester, but now has about 15. The Frederick County facility helped train RSW Regional Jail officers. In exchange, the RSW Regional Jail offered to take certain inmates from the facility in Frederick County as it experienced a spike in prisoner population.

The deal will last through Labor Day and under the agreement the RSW Regional Jail won't take inmates who have medical conditions nor can it accept female prisoners because of space needs, Gilkison said.

The RSW Regional Jail receives compensation from the facility to cover the per diem costs of holding its inmates, Gilkison said. The jail in Frederick County would pick up any additional cost beyond the housing of the prisoners.

"Any time it was going to be a strain on our facility or to our staff or cause overtime or anything like that it was agreed upon that we'd immediately send them back," Gilkison said.

Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center Superintendent James F. Whitley said Friday the inmate population often spikes in the summer. The facility holds 560 inmates but currently houses an average of 625 prisoners. Whitley said courtesy holds are common in the corrections field.

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

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