Northern Neck Regional Jail has managed to keep COVID-19 out of the facility but still has felt the effects of the pandemic through financial and operational challenges.
Movement into and out of the jail has continued but bookings have declined. The largest portion of the facility’s revenue comes from its federal contract but the health crisis has slowed the flow of federal inmates, and NNRJ has completely stopped taking individuals from the DC jail because of the number of active coronavirus cases and exposures at that facility.
As NNRJ lets the federal population decrease, it’s seeing less money from per diems and transportation for federal inmates. Those revenues have declined about $70,000.
At the end of April, the average daily population for federal inmates was down to about 150 inmates, but the facility needs to maintain an average of about 155 to meet its FY 19-20 budget.
Currently, NNRJ’s members don’t bear any of the cost of operating the facility, and even with the drop in revenue, the facility’s superintendent Ted Hull doesn’t expect any financial burden to fall on those jurisdictions, which include Richmond County, Northumberland, Westmoreland, Gloucester and the Town of Warsaw.
The facility hasn’t raised any costs paid by inmates, and Hull doesn’t anticipate the situation having any impact on the FY 20-21 budget. He said there is enough room in the budget to manage short-term fluctuations.
Handling operational challenges
Although overall activity has decreased, there is still movement at the NNRJ to accommodate court schedules, and transporting those inmates has created one of the facility’s most significant operational challenges.
Each time an inmate is brought back into the facility, that individual is required to go into a 14-day quarantine. Thus far, and in the future, NNRJ expects the bulk of quarantined inmates to result from court-related activity.
Even though court appearances elevate the risk of introducing the virus at the facility, NNRJ has avoided infections so far. Five inmates have been tested for COVID-19 and 12 employees have been quarantined, but as it stands, all are asymptomatic.
Given that record, NNRJ’s administration has chosen not to recommend the release of any inmates prior to term. Hull said trying to supersede or amend the decision of the authorities that placed the inmates in jail when there hasn’t been any inmate-associated COVID-19 risk at NNRJ to justify doing so would be inappropriate and irresponsible.
However, if COVID-19 starts to present a significant risk to the jail, NNRJ has developed a plan, that includes forwarding a list of low-risk inmates to the jurisdictions’ Commonwealth Attorneys and sheriffs for consideration and submittal to the courts.
“If or when we experience an increased risk proposition that would be difficult to manage we would then explore all available options up to and including recommendations for early release or alternative incarceration of some type,” said Hull.
NNRJ’s finances have not, do not and will not play a role in the facility’s stance regarding early release, furlough, alternative incarceration commuted sentences, according to Hull. “It is really about risk and our ability to manage that risk weighed against the public safety of the community,” he added.