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Virginia Organizing to hold protest on proposed MRRJ renovations

Middle River Regional Jail in Augusta County
Middle River Regional Jail in Augusta County(WHSV)
Published: May. 28, 2021 at 5:14 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - Harrisonburg-Rockingham County and Waynesboro Chapters of Virginia Organizing will hold a press conference/protest outside the Augusta County Government Center on Tuesday, June 1 at 1 p.m., to call for a no vote on jail renovations and expansion at the Middle River Regional Jail (MRRJ).

The event will take place an hour before the Jail Authority’s meeting, where a vote on the future of the proposed jail renovations and expansion is expected.

“We are deeply concerned community members who will continue to demand full transparency from the Middle River Regional Jail board as they continue their disingenuous attempts to pull in more taxpayer funds under the disguise of saying they will provide more mental health services,” said Connie Wright-Zink, a member of the Waynesboro County Chapter of Virginia Organizing. “MRRJ is not, nor should it attempt to be, a mental health facility. Taxpayer funds should go directly to well-trained mental health specialists completely outside the criminal justice system.”

“In the last couple of weeks, members of the jail authority, and the mayors of the five jurisdictions that own MRRJ, met secretly, without allowing or receiving any public input, without taking any minutes or disclosing a plan that the general public can see about their decisions to conduct renovations or additional expansion of the jail. Virginia Organizing, and other organizations in the area, found out about a plan to add 48 ‘mental health’ beds, thanks to people who leaked this information, but not because our elected officials informed us of this decision, said Anna Cubbage, Rockingham County resident and person previously incarcerated at MRRJ. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t have any idea of their plan. Now the jail authority and the five jurisdictions are presumably endorsing a $14.5 million plan for ‘renovations’. This is another effort by the jail authority to move forward with expansion efforts and set the groundwork for future bed expansion.”

A representative from Virginia Organizing adds that local organizations have pointed to large numbers of pre-trial inmates, high recidivism rates, the prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorders, and the disproportionate incarceration of Black and Brown people as indicators that there are deeper problems with the criminal justice system that will only be exacerbated by renovating or expanding the jail.

The organizers say they urge the City of Waynesboro and the City of Harrisonburg to strongly oppose this ‘disingenuous’ plan to renovate MRRJ, and move in the direction of creating and funding community-based programs, which do not expand the jail, that they say would really take care of inmates in a humane and responsible way.

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