Local jail staff shrinkage will start soon

Regional jail approves ads for 35 officers for July 2014 opening

By Matt Wingfield
Rappahannock News staff

The impending opening of the new Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail, still under construction in Front Royal, is likely to mean the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office losing up to nine jail-related positions as the new facility works to fill its 130 soon-to-be-open positions.

County Administrator John McCarthy said this week that the regional jail, its cost split among the member counties of Warren, Shenandoah and Rappahannock, will be fielding applications from employees from each county’s sheriff’s office beginning in early 2014.

All correctional officers from the regional jail’s three member counties will have to apply for positions at the regional jail, but McCarthy said that, historically, “15 to 20 percent of people just don’t want to work at a regional jail.”

“Anyone who wants a job [at the regional jail] will get one,” said McCarthy, who serves on the jail authority board. “It’s up to them to decide whether or not they want to work there.”

Construction of the $71.7 million, 375-bed facility began in July 2012; the jail is scheduled to formally open in July 2014, although McCarthy said it may open in April to acclimate and train new employees.

Sheriff Connie C. Smith did not respond to interview requests for this story, but during her reelection campaign in 2011, before ground was broken in Front Royal but after supervisors in the three counties agreed to go ahead with the jail project, she said she wasn’t in agreement with the idea of a regional jail — and that when it opened, her department would lose officers. “When that jail opens, this jail shuts down,” she said.

At its meeting last Thursday (Sept. 26), the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail Authority board approved advertising for 35 officers and five administrative positions, which is expected to cost $767,672 in salaries and benefits, according to information from Mary Beth Price, county administrator for Shenandoah County. Administrative positions would cost $306,444, based on a start date of Nov. 1, Price said.

McCarthy said that the exact salary figures have not yet been set, but that anyone from Rappahannock (and from Shenandoah and Warren) would likely be paid a few thousand dollars more in salary at the regional jail than they make working for county sheriff’s departments. Based on the regional jail’s benefits packages, however, which McCarthy said are being finalized, the overall package’s attractiveness may or may not be attractive to current local jailers.

In addition to the 35 correctional officers for the jail, the board authorized the advertisement for an information technology specialist, a facilities maintenance manager, a chief financial personnel manager and a compliance safety officer. Once the authority hires the deputy superintendent, officials would conduct interviews for the other positions.

McCarthy stressed, however, that any potential decrease to the sheriff’s office budget won’t be reflected until the jail has been open for a year. “There will be another line item that reads ‘regional jail’ where that money will go,” McCarthy said, adding that preparations for the jail’s opening and impact are still underway and under discussion. “There will also be some transition costs.”

Those transitional costs will consist primarily of transporting prisoners to the jail, McCarthy said, though the logistics on that have not yet been decided. McCarthy said that while Warren County will be able to directly transport its prisoners, Rappahannock won’t have that luxury and will have to figure out another way.

“There’s typically only one deputy on the road at night,” McCarthy said, “and if you take him away to transport a prisoner, then there’s no one left.”

There are a number of solutions the RCSO is considering, McCarthy said, including transporting its prisoners to the regional jail with those from Warren County. Alternatively, McCarthy said the county is also investigating the possibility of hiring a third party for transportation, or creating new “transport officer” positions at the RCSO, who would be on call 24 hours a day to transport all the county’s prisoners to and from the jail.

The possibility for expansion beyond prisoners from the three member counties also exists, as the regional jail is looking into possibly housing prisoners from Loudoun County. “They have to drive right by the jail on their way to Loudoun,” McCarthy explained.

For that same reason, the possibility of housing federal prisoners, who are usually transported from Dulles International Airport, also exists, McCarthy said. Federal prisoners would be paid for per diem, or on a daily basis.

“I expect the jail will one day be revenue positive,” McCarthy said.