WAYNESBORO, Va. (WVIR) - Everyone can agree that Middle River Regional Jail is overcrowded, sometimes exceeding its capacity by 400 inmates. The Jail Authority Board is discussing a possible $40 million expansion and renovation. Monday night, Waynesboro City Council members talked about where they stand.
The five localities that buy into Middle River Regional Jail, including Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta County, have no say in who goes to jail, but they are responsible for properly caring for those inmates.
“If those conditions persist over time, it becomes more and more likely that, eventually, we will have an incident that is attributable to the conditions at the jail for which the authority, and perhaps to a lesser extent the member jurisdictions, will have to be held accountable and responsible,” stated Waynesboro City Manager Mike Hamp.
Hamp says at the end of the day, it’s a space problem, and the need to expand is apparent. He recommends council endorse an expansion in some form.
Councilman Bruce Allen wants to focus tax dollars elsewhere. “I’d rather put our tax dollars to productive citizens that are trying to make our community a better place to live than to the place that the people that are non-productive,” said Allen.
“Over four and a half years now on council, and these recent conversations are the first time I’ve ever heard about a $40 million jail expansion,” stated Councilman Terry Short. He and two other members want to hit the pause button. Short says the state needs to take its prisoners, about 140 inmates currently housed at Middle River. “Until that is addressed, I personally can’t, I wouldn’t support the addition of one bed until we have had the opportunity to be advocates,” said Short.
Mayor Bobby Henderson says whether or not the state is playing fair, council has a responsibility. “The fact that we’ve got an overcrowded jail, pushing this down the road a year, putting our employees at risk, putting inmates at risk, I don’t think that’s a responsible way for a city to do knowing that we have duty to fund the jail and to take care of the jail,” said Henderson.
Some council members want more information, like Dr. Sam Hostetter. “I’d like to get a better understanding of what some of the different pieces that can be applied to try to decrease that number of inmates before we rush to approve either a big or a small expansion,” stated Hostetter.
“There’s a lot going on with the legislator as far as laws that could possibly and potentially change some of the incarceration rates and possibly even reduce them,” added Vice Mayor Lana Williams.
In order for any kind of expansion or renovation to happen, four of the five localities would have to agree to it.