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Jail Might Need Funds

PRINCE EDWARD – The Piedmont Regional Jail is the only jail in the state that does not receive funding from its member jurisdictions.

That, however, could change.

Jail Superintendent Ernest Toney presented an overview of the program, its history and challenges to the board of supervisors' work session last week.

Jail officials are asking that the six member counties put aside the slightly less than the five percent initially agreed upon of the total current budget, or $400,000. Prince Edward's share-factoring 37.4 percent of usage of the jail (according to State Code)-would come to $149,600.

“These funds are only being asked to be put aside in the event that we cannot secure future contracts,” Toney detailed. “Several years ago Prince Edward set aside money for the jail's operation and there was not a need for those funds. We'll do everything within our power to have those same results.”

The Jail has functioned well taking inmates from other jurisdictions at a fee-to the point that the member counties have not had to pay for operations.

According to figures provided by Toney, the Jail has saved the six counties $53,086,393 since 1998 (funds that were used for operational cost above funds contributed by the state). In addition, the Jail has given the member counties $4,050,000 from its reserve funds over the years-funds generated from revenues made from housing state, other jurisdiction inmates and federal inmates. The funds factor the $1.8 million in the initial startup cost and $2.25 million in construction/startup cost for the Jail's juvenile detention center.

The Jail, the first regional jail in Virginia, was built at a cost of $3.6 million, with the state contributing half of the cost and each of the six member jurisdictions contributing $300,000 each.

In addition to Prince Edward, it serves Amelia, Buckingham, Cumberland, Lunenburg, and Nottoway.

The Jail receives funding from the State Compensation Board (the facility had 69 funded positions, which was reduced last year to 66 and has three now non-funded positions); Virginia Department of Corrections (the Department had paid $28 per day for inmates-the amount paid on the 61st day after they are convicted-and that was reduced two years ago to $12 per day translating into about $1,833,760 million in less funds); local government contributions (originally paying 50 percent of the construction costs), revenue received from other localities (usually from the U.S. Marshal Service, the federal Bureau of Prisons, other sheriff run jails and occasionally other regional jails.

“…To say that we've come this far, 24 years without asking the counties for anything and given $4 million back in the six counties is nothing less than a miracle,” Toney said.

He added that they're hoping they “won't need any money at all” but that he didn't think it would be responsible if they didn't come before the board and let them know that there may be a possibility.

Regional Jail Board Chairman Jimmy Garnett also assured the board that the last thing they would want to do is to ask the county for money and noted a sense of pride in not having to ask. However, he also added that they didn't feel like they would be responsible in not giving a heads-up.

County Administrator Wade Bartlett asked about a timetable when they may need some additional funding. Toney noted that they have some money on reserve and are working at break-even now. If they can continue to keep costs down and get some revenue coming in “we may not need you at all, but because of the fluctuations of getting inmates in and out, that's that uncertainty.”

He also noted, “We've been very fortunate, but everywhere I've been, it's a considerable cost running a jail and usually in the hundreds of thousands of dollars-especially with the numbers that we have.”

According to February figures, Prince Edward had 276 inmates, more than twice that of the second largest member county, Nottoway, at 118.

In the report presented to the board, it was noted that the Jail lost the contract to house ICE detainees in 2009 (338 detainees or $5,705,862) with two contracts. Those funds were replaced with 355 federal inmates through seven contracts with the Federal Government in North Carolina, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

In addition, it was also noted they have contracts with Dinwiddie, Mecklenburg, Powhatan and, recently, with Appomattox and Culpeper counties to house their inmates, but that is about to change.

Appomattox has joined the Blue Ridge Regional Jail, and Dinwiddie and Mecklenburg will become a part of their own regional Jail as of July 1. (It was later noted they were able to renegotiate their contract with Culpeper-with the new sheriff-and will house their inmates.)

It was cited that the jail had to pay the aid to localities to the state totaling $497,000 over three years.

Toney also told The Herald that with “three consecutive years of budget cuts from the state, we're operating with a little over a million dollars less than what we did three years ago from the state.”

The facility has the lowest cost per inmate per day in the state.

“…We have people constantly calling us asking us how we do it. Well, we spend this money like it's ours,” Toney told The Herald.

Toney noted, they are in discussion with the West Virginia U.S. Marshal Service and will meet with them and are currently in discussions with the South Carolina U.S. Marshal Service and the Richmond City Jail and hope to serve them in the near future.