By 2014, ‘jail’ will mean a trip north

Simulation courtesy of RSW Regional Jail Authority

By summer 2014, the Rappahannock County Jail – one of the oldest operating jails in the state – will be decommissioned, and county inmates will instead serve time in a much larger regional jail in Warren County with 375-bed capacity and a decidedly different character.

Construction of the $71.7 million Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren Regional Jail (RSWRJ) begins in July.

Ted Cole, senior vice president of public finance for Davenport and Associates, presented ballpark costs, figures and potential financing options for the RSWRJ project to the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors at Monday’s monthly meeting (Feb. 6). Cole made a similar presentation to Shenandoah County supervisors last week and speaks to Warren County supervisors next week.

The three “member counties” have agreed to provide a total of $39 million over 30 years to pay off the long-term loans related to the project completion; the General Assembly has promised to pay another $32 million, six months after the jail opens, to cover the remaining costs.

“Our primary role is to secure the best financing; our market is very good right now,” Cole said, noting that the figures he cited were for discussion only and that none of the estimates should be taken literally. “In April or May, I’ll be back to the three county boards for real discussion, and will ask the boards to adopt the resolution.”

The RSW Regional Jail Authority plans to build the facility in Warren County north of Front Royal, near the Warren County fairgrounds on U.S. 522 – two miles from I-66 and seven or eight miles from I-81. The authority will be responsible for funding construction costs as well as various “soft costs” related to staffing, equipping and opening the facility.

While debt will be issued by the jail authority, the county will be responsible for sending prisoners to the regional jail once it’s completed and will pay per-day costs associated with housing and transporting each inmate to and from Rappahannock County. Based on Cole’s projections – using each county’s fairly current inmate estimates (with Rappahannock at 36 prisoners) and assuming that no beds are rented to other jurisdictions – the county would pay about $30 per day per inmate in 2015, and about $60 starting in 2016.

“At the end of the day, you’re required to send your inmates to this facility,” Cole said, noting that the regional jail is rated at 375 – since there will be 375 single beds – though using approved double bunking, the RSWRJ could house up to 563 prisoners. County Administrator John McCarthy noted that the Rappahannock’s jail is rated at seven, although inmate population has climbed as high as 38 in recent months. Based on current inmate populations at the three member counties, which would account for 270 beds, there will be 293 beds available to prisoners from other jurisdictions.

“We’re building on worst-case scenarios, as best as we possibly can, since all figures assume that no out-of-county inmates will be housed,” McCarthy said, noting that costs to the county will be subsidized by profits made from renting out beds to out-of-town prisoners. “For now it is only showing inmates from the RSW counties, though the first move will be getting commitments from other county governments to send prisoners there, at a higher cost, because we’ll have beds for them. This is rated as a medium-security facility, so most detainees from the state are viable.

“The advantage we have is that Prince William and Loudoun counties to the north are overcrowded and sending prisoners elsewhere, so we’ll likely be able to get prisoners from there,” McCarthy said. “It costs us about $2,800 a day to run our local jail, and would cost the county well over $100,000 to renovate our jail to meet DOC standards. The bottom line: People rent beds to make money. There hasn’t been a regional jail built in the last 10 years that isn’t making money on renting out beds.”

County Attorney Peter Luke, who recently retired after also serving for 28 years as the county’s commonwealth’s attorney, pointed out that the inmate numbers used for the cost projections are unrealistically high. The county is cited as having 36 prisoners, he said, when it’s closer to 20 now, and will go down substantially after several longstanding cases from last summer and fall are resolved.

“The crime rate rises exponentially with the population, and populations in Northern Virginia are rising fast,” Luke said. “Though you get a different quality of prisoner when you draw inmates from counties like Prince William, Loudoun and Fairfax. You’re going to bring in gangs and violent crimes. I can probably name every prisoner in our jail; only a couple I’d describe as violent. These Northern Virginia counties try to get rid of their worst criminals by sending them elsewhere.”

The largest component of the jail authority’s costs will be construction – currently estimated at about $53.6 million.