The technical, logistical, staffing and training issues that have dogged the new Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren Regional Jail during its opening days and weeks are being addressed and corrected, says the Front Royal facility’s superintendent.
The issues — glitches attributed by most involved to the facility, and most of its staff, being new — will be topic No. 1 at today’s meeting of the RSW Jail Authority, which Rappahannock County Sheriff Connie C. Smith plans to attend, and where she expects to see her counterparts Tim Carter of Shenandoah County and Danny McEathron of Warren.
“It’s a learning process,” said Smith, who said she has received calls over the past few weeks from formerly local inmates’ families concerned about a variety of problems, from calculations of time served to the availability of shampoo and undergarments. “They’ll get it.”
“I think a lot of what’s being presented out in the public is what occurred the first few days we were opened,” said Russ Gilkinson, whose official title — interim superintendent — itself is a result of former superintendent Robert Mulligan’s surprise announcement that he was retiring as of July 1, opening day, after working for a year to get the tri-county facility ready to open.
Gilkinson was talking about reports — and at least one motion filed in Warren County Circuit Court last week by an attorney unable to confer with his client, an RSW inmate — of a number of glitches, including:
• long waits to visit prisoners, both by attorneys and family members;
• malfunction of the jail’s state-of-the-art video-visitation system (it’s working now);
• the absence of a working secure video system that is used to connect incoming inmates with state magistrates (Gilkinson said he’s told the system will be operational within the next two weeks; meanwhile the jail has to transport inmates to use the system at Warren County Sheriff’s Office);
• missed court appearances by several prisoners, including one Tuesday in Rappahannock County Circuit Court. (The inmate was transported later in the day, as were several others earlier in the month in Warren County, and there were no apparent negative legal consequences to the confusion.)
Gilkinson says the facility, meanwhile, has a daily average of about 350 prisoners during its first month (it was designed to hold 375 before double-bunking is required). He said the facility’s complement of 149 is still shy about 24 sworn staff — correctional officers — and three licensed practical nurses.
“We had a professional visit just this week,” Gilkinson said, speaking of an attorney coming to see a client, “and one of our authority members was with him, kind of in an undercover capacity. And they were very pleased with the way the visit went.”
“Things are getting better,” said Gilkinson, who estimated that a majority of the jail’s staff has spent less than two years in the corrections field, and a number of sworn officers have less than six months’ experience. “And even for those who came here from the local jails, this is a very different place, just in sheer size and especially technology,” he said. “There’s a learning curve.”
Gilkinson said he expects the jail authority will address the superintendent search also at its meeting today in Front Royal, and acknowledged that he’s a candidate for the permanent post. “I am absolutely interested in staying on,” he said. “I’d love to have the opportunity, and a lot of effort has already been put into getting this place operating.”
“I think they opened a bit before they were ready,” said longtime Rappahannock attorney Frank Reynolds, “but they’re doing the best they can to get there.”
Reynolds said during his last trip to the facility, he ran into a “tech guy, who obviously knew what he was doing, and how everything worked — and was clearly being run ragged.” He said he offered on the spot to represent the fellow in civil court. “I told him, ‘You are obviously not being paid enough.’ ”