It appears the Culpeper Jail has reached a breaking point.
Built in 1987 as an addition to the historic Sheriff’s Office building, the jail fronting on West Cameron Street was made to hold around 70 inmates.
But on an average day, 92 inmates—both male and female—live there, doubled up in cells, holding areas and/or isolation cells, Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday during a meeting on the fiscal 2020 budget at which he requested six new jail employees.
Another 100 or so local inmates awaiting a day in court are “farmed out” to Piedmont Regional Jail in Farmville or Rappahannock Shenandoah Regional Jail in Front Royal, according to Jenkins. The outside jail services have cost the county around $1 million annually for the past several years.
A few more local defendants are held at Central Virginia Regional Jail in Orange, which serves Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Madison and Orange counties as part of a cost-sharing arrangement once again being seriously eyed by Culpeper officials.
The total average daily jail population for Culpeper is 202 inmates, the sheriff said, compared to 90 when he took office in 2011. Jenkins said an independent study of the current situation recommended 16 new jail positions to adequately cover staffing needs, including transporting inmates to the local courthouse from the other jails.
He referenced the more than 100 percent increase in jail population in requesting more jail staff, describing the workload for jailers as “unimaginable.”
“Staff is just flat out wearing out,” Jenkins said.
Liability issues loom
The sheriff said it’s not uncommon for deputies from across the 100-member department to fill in at the jail, requiring around-the-clock monitoring by four squads working 12-hour shifts.
“We constantly just pull people from everywhere to help,” Jenkins said. “Everyone wears many hats.”
Supervisor Gary Deal asked if the overcrowding had led to any “inmate liability issues.”
The sheriff said there has not been a big problem in that regard.
“But at some point, someone gets hurt or dies we will all have to answer for that,” Jenkins added. “We know the ratios are off and that we need more help. At this point, we need to increase the staff.”
Culpeper County Administrator John Egertson recommended four new jail positions, which would bring staffing levels in the small jail to 33. With the extra positions, the jail budget is proposed at $3.1 million compared to $2.7 million in the current fiscal year.
Also requested as part of the sheriff’s office budget was $1.25 million to pay for housing local inmates in the other jails, compared to $900,000 in the current year’s budget. Egertson recommended $1.1 million for the outside jail budget.
Piedmont Regional used to take up to 100 inmates from Culpeper, but that number was cut in half “because its jail is filling up,” Jenkins said, noting the jail in Farmville still provides transportation for inmates to Culpeper for court hearings.
The jail in Front Royal does not provide transportation, he said, meaning Culpeper jailers must make the trip there, back to Culpeper, back to Front Royal and back home again. The sheriff said he didn’t think current staffing levels could sustain that for very long.
Regional jail interest again
The Sheriff’s Office has seen incredible growth overall since he took office, Jenkins said, from 37,000 annual calls for service to more than 54,000 last year.
Illegal drugs are tied to many criminal charges, the sheriff said when asked by Supervisor Sue Hansohn about the most prevalent crimes for which inmates are being held. He said the female jail population is also steadily rising due to drugs.
Jenkins said he would not have foreseen the jail population increase several years ago and that, “We’re plugging the holes as best as we can.” The sheriff remarked that being part of a regional jail operation, as has been discussed over the years, would “be a good option to look at.”
He added localities are not allowed into regional arrangements “without a price,” saying Egertson had been exploring a potential arrangement with the regional jail in Orange.
Supervisor Jack Frazier concurred it might be time to look at a regional jail arrangement for Culpeper. The sheriff agreed, saying the state’s larger jails were filling up with federal inmates and that he didn’t want it to get the point where they were completely full “and have no room for us.”
County officials at the budget meeting noted the state’s former 200-bed juvenile facility next to Coffeewood Correctional Center in Mitchells has been sitting empty for several years since it closed. The state originally proposed making it into a women’s facility, but that has yet to materialize.
Supervisor Sue Hansohn suggested starting the conversation with the state about using that space, located in Culpeper County, for local jail needs.
287(g) and other budget highlights
Jenkins, in earlier remarks on Tuesday, said the need for more jail staff has nothing to do with the controversial 287(g) partnership the jail has with Immigration & Customs Enforcement for holding suspected undocumented immigrants for the federal agency.
The sheriff said that program would not be fully implemented until the end of the year, with two jail deputies being trained to serve as ICE agents. Jenkins said there has been no cost for the training and it is not included as part of his fiscal 2020 budget request. Once in place, 287(g) will require six to eight hours each month from jail deputies, he said.
The sheriff’s total fiscal 2020 budget is around $12.5 million, with around $9.7 million covered by local taxes and the rest by the state and a variety of other fees and programs.
For court security, Egertson recommended $1.47 million compared to $1.33 million in the current fiscal year. The state provides funding for nine of the 14 funded court-security positions. The sheriff did not request additional court-security personnel in his fiscal 2020 budget, but all county employees will receive a 2.03 percent cost-of-living raise and have the potential for a 0 to 3 percent merit increase.
The sheriff had also requested adding another patrol officer, a narcotics detective and administrative support staff, but those positions did not make into Egertson’s recommended budget. In addition, Jenkins requested another $10,000 for meals and lodging – from $20,000 to $30,000, which Egertson recommended for approval.