By Randy Arrington
LURAY — The fact that the Page County Jail is crowded, is nothing new. The issue has been debated for at least two decades or more.
The costly problem has been avoided, in large part, due to the price tag attached to potential solutions — much like new school construction was treated for nearly half a century. Now, supervisors potentially face the most costly capital project since two new high schools opened in 2009.
And, if the supervisors decide to build a new jail, it could cost as much as the two high schools — about $54 million.
Tony Bell of Moseley Architects gave a lengthy presentation on options to alleviate inmate crowding at last week’s Page County Board of Supevisors’ meeting. Among the options presented were:
- Build a jail;
- Join a regional jail;
- Do nothing.
Several supervisors voiced opposition to the last option.
“We know we have to do something,” District 5 supervisor Jeff Vaughn said. “It’s not going to get any cheaper.”
Over the past decade the Page County inmate population has grown significantly, with a noticeable increase over the past four years. Those inmate population figures are (including those housed at the Page County Jail and other facilities across the state while incarcerated by Page County):
- 2011 — 79
- 2012 — 75
- 2013 — 116
- 2014 — 122
- 2015 — 114
- 2016 — 140
- 2017 — 126
- 2018 — 166
- 2019 — 183
Over the next decade, Bell projected that the Page County inmate population would grow another 72 percent, reaching 316 by 2029.
The Page County Jail was first opened in 1969 with a capacity for 34 inmates. It currently averages between 70 to 80 inmates.
“It’s a hut,” Chairman Morgan Phenix said of the county jail.
In addition to the crowding issue, a 2019 jail needs assessment conducted by Moseley Architects noted other deficiencies in the local jail, including an inadequate fire suppression system and not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The 100 or so additional Page County inmates are scattered at various facilities across the state including Front Royal, Staunton, Verona, Dillwyn and Emporia (200 miles away).
For each inmate incarcerated at a facility outside Page County, the sheriff’s office must pay a daily fee for a bed, and provide transportation to and from court cases and medical treatment — sometimes over a long distance.
“Just because we have 70 to 80 in our jail… we are still responsible for the entire inmate population because we are not partnering with other localities,” Sheriff Chad Cubbage told supervisors last Tuesday night.
Five years ago, Page officials were told it would cost $15 million to join the RSW regional jail near Front Royal, in addition to annual costs and contributions as a member of the regional partnership and transportation costs. Page did not originally join the regional jail concept more than a decade ago because of the high cost.
That leaves one option — the option that consumed 95 percent of Bell’s presentation to the board last week — building a new jail.
Due to the projected inmate population almost doubling over the next decade, supervisors were told to consider the option of building a new jail with a capacity for 315 to 320 inmates. The RSW regional jail near Front Royal has a capacity for 375 inmates.
“I would say RSW is not far off,” said District 1 supervisor Keith Guzy, noting the capacity Page’s jail would need to house a growing inmate population over the next few decades.
Of the projected $54.4 million cost, the state would reimburse the county 25 percent — leaving the local obligation at $40.8 million. However, in order to qualify for state funds, the county must follow the Board of Corrections process and meet all requirements from submitting a planning study potentially by the end of the year, to design, construction and eventually accepting inmates six years later. That would also mean the state would control any future expansion based on need.
Among the advantages of the county building its own jail, supervisors discussed the potential for higher state reimbursements and renting beds to other localities.
“People don’t expect jails to make money,” Bell warned supervisors, noting that dealing with a larger inmate population will also create additional expenses, such as staff.
Realizing that expansion at the current site is improbable, supervisors last week stated a desire to begin discussing potential jail sites in closed session at their next meeting. A site of at least 38 acres will be needed, according to the consultant.