Jail explores trolley for work release inmates

Front Royal's trolley rides along a section of Main Street near Royal Avenue recently. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Work release inmates from the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail have registered their support for a fledgling effort to extend trolley service to the Riverton Commons area along U.S. 340/522.

Jail officials, as part of a larger attempt by local government officials to gauge public interest in the project, conducted a survey among inmates in May that showed 27 out of 29 respondents said they would use the service at least five times a week.

A survey of other members of the public showed that 105 of 160 respondents said they would use the proposed trolley to travel to businesses such as Wal-Mart and the urgent care clinic Valley Health has relocated from downtown to Riverton Commons.

Jail officials have been fielding complaints from merchants about work release inmates walking to and from their employment along the more than three-mile stretch of U.S. 340/522. The inmates typically lack the money to pay for the $10 cab fare, the most obvious option for them when no friends or family members are able to transport them from the jail.

Warren County Administrator Douglas Stanley said at a Jail Authority meeting Thursday that one inmate walking back to the facility was stricken with heat stroke during the last few days.

“We don’t like our folks walking on the highway,” Stanley said.

Stanley said the jail has 15 or 20 work release inmates, a number that represents a potentially significant addition to the average of 35 riders per day in the existing downtown trolley loop.

Stanley identified local governments, federal grants and canteen funds from the jail as possible sources of funding for the expanded trolley service.

Stanley, who is vice-chairman of the jail authority, has been meeting with local businesses and the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission to explore extending public transportation to the jail and other places along the corridor.

“In the long run, I think we will see an expansion happen,” Stanley said, adding that the question is whether public demand has already reached a point to justify such a project.

In another matter, Superintendent William Wilson defended the actions of the jail staff during the suicide of a jail inmate in early June and in two other inmate deaths since the jail opened on July 1, 2014.

Wilson said the staff performed professionally in each case. He said there have been instances where other staff members have saved the lives of other inmates who have attempted suicide, or instances where inmates were saved from death during drug overdoses and withdrawals.

Wilson said some inmates are suffering from overdoses and withdrawals from the moment they are booked.

“We’ve had a few that were severely overdosed by the time they get here,” Wilson said.

Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron said he had confidence in the jail staff and administration.

“In all these instances, we realize you’re doing a good job,” McEathron told Wilson.

Wilson said after a rocky start, training and communications among jail staff have improved considerably in the last two years, despite continuing problems with recruitment and retention.

“We’re getting it together as a team,” Wilson said. “The attitude around here seems to be not us versus them.”

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