Remember that plan to build a $63 million new jail by the landfill that was projected to reach its rated capacity shortly after opening? But maybe it was actually just a proverbial foot in the door to the state corrections apparatus’s funding trough in case Harrisonburg and Rockingham County weren’t able to come up with any better sort of plan?
The limbo didn’t last long. On Wednesday afternoon, the city and county announced plans to join Waynesboro, Staunton and Augusta County in an expanded Middle River Regional Jail Authority. In brief:
- Harrisonburg and Rockingham County will equally split a buy-in price of $21.5 million in exchange for a guarantee of at least 250 beds in the Middle River Regional Jail (MRRJ) in Verona.
- They will keep the existing jail in downtown Harrisonburg open, but they won’t be building any new jail.
- The localities’ shares of the operational budget for the MRRJ will eventually be based on the number of inmates each sends there.
At the end of last year, everyone involved acknowledged that negotiations to possibly expand the authority were occurring, but were otherwise pretty hush-hush about the whole thing. They were being so hush-hush, in fact, that when city council voted to send the now-cast-aside plans to build a new jail to the state – at a fairly charged meeting during which members of the council spoke at length about the inmate overcrowding problem facing the community – no mention whatsoever was made about possibly joining the MRRJ authority.
Where the big push for alternative local approaches to criminal justice is concerned, the announcement this week included on-paper commitments to launch work-release and weekender programs at MRRJ, to improve mental health and substance abuse treatment services, and to check out options for creating day-reporting program. The sheet handed out at the press conference didn’t provide additional detail here, or say anything about funding these.
The announcement pretty much came out of the blue on Wednesday. Final, binding agreements haven’t been signed (the lawyers have to finish up with their busywork first) but city and county officials are quite clear that plans for the $63 million dollar jail – the ones that they paid a consulting firm $120,000 to write, and that brought a standing-room-only crowd of protesters to council chambers, and that were signed and dispatched to the state over those objections – are suddenly and definitely off.
One thing I don’t quite understand is why the whole premise and possibility of joining the MRRJ authority were kept so secret while the city and county went through the expensive motions of advancing the $63 million plan.