When concerns about the COVID-19 crisis bubbled up, officials at the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren County Regional Jail said the jail was well-prepared to handle the outbreak. On Monday, RSW submitted a list of 64 inmates to the commonwealth’s attorney to consider for early release.
Jail Superintendent Russ Gilkison said Wednesday that he does not have the authority to release anyone from the jail but that the commonwealth’s attorney may consider to reduce the population. Gilkison said the list he submitted to the commonwealth’s attorney’s office and the public defender’s office includes requests for sentence modifications and commutations.
Gilkison said the list was provided to attorneys and the judges will make the final determination whether an inmate is eligible for early release or a modified sentence.
Most of the people on the list are inmates who are part of the jail’s work-release program. They have already shown jail authorities they can be trusted to leave the jail and not cause problems for the community.
Other people on the list include those who are at the greatest risk if they contracted COVID-19. Although some at-risk inmates were included, Gilkison said he still thinks that the court system will reject some of them.
No cases of COVID-19 have occurred inside RSW yet, Gilkison said, in part due to the decision to shut down all visitation as well as programs that involve anyone entering or exiting the facility. Work release programs have been shut down to keep the possible transmission of the virus to a minimum.
“It’s trying to get your numbers down so if for some reason we were to start having cases of COVID inside the facility, you are reducing the number of people that would potentially be exposed,” Gilkison said. “The courts have been very good about trying to do as much through video arraignment rather than having us transport people.”
Inmates who were participating in the work release program are considered good candidates for Gilkison’s list not only because of their track record inside the jail but because they already have ankle monitors. The work-release program covered the cost of ankle monitors and if those same people were released, no new equipment would have to be purchased.
Funding for operating the monitors is covered by the program, however releasing inmates not on the program’s budget would incur some costs for the jail, Gilkison said.
Even with those costs, it may make fiscal sense for the jail as paying for the ankle monitors is cheaper than housing an inmate, Gilkison said.
Despite trying to prevent as much movement in and out of the jail as possible, Gilkison said there is still some movement. Crime has not stopped and people who are arrested are still booked in, though that process has become more stringent in recent weeks.
“As soon as they hit the door, we are asking all the triage questions,” Gilkison said. “What are their risk factors? We are taking temperatures.”
In short, Gilkison said the jail is following all of the guidelines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Health have published.
The jail is still accepting some inmates from other jurisdictions as well.
A major revenue stream for the jail comes from the contracts it has with Culpeper and Page County to rent bed space. These rentals are continuing, Gilkison said, but the jail and those counties are working to reduce the number of inmates who are transferred.
Culpeper has already taken 12 inmates back from RSW who are candidates for early or modified release. RSW also has asked Page County to take back eight inmates in order to have space for more female inmates.
Thinning the numbers inside is the first step to preventing a potential COVID-19 outbreak. To prepare for the worst, Gilkison said the jail has been talking with Valley Health to put systems in place if it’s suspected that an inmate might have contracted the virus. Those systems lay out how health care workers and guards will move throughout the jail to come into contact with as few people as possible.
It is not clear when the courts will begin to approve early releases. Gilkison said he submitted the jail’s list on Monday and the court began reviewing it on Wednesday.