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Middle River Regional Jail board postpones expansion talks

Middle River Regional Jail board postpones expansion talks

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VERONA — While some attendees anticipated a vote, the Middle River Regional Jail Authority Board did not discuss the expansion of the facility at their quarterly meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Rockingham County Administrator Stephen King opened the meeting by stating no action or discussion between the board would be conducted at Tuesday’s meeting, despite its placement on the agenda. King said the jail still needs to present its expansion plans to more localities and expansion will be on the agenda for the June 1 meeting.

Middle River Regional Jail must receive approval from four of the five localities to move forward with expansion. Waynesboro’s City Council expressed some concerns about the project at its March 22 meeting.

The meeting follows a peaceful rally held Monday evening in front of the jail to oppose expansion plans, and some of those residents attended Tuesday’s board meeting.

Hannah Wittmer, of Harrisonburg, took issue with the use of the rated capacity metric used by MRRJ throughout the expansion process. MRRJ has a rated capacity of 396 inmates, with an operational capacity of 600. The jail averaged 843 inmates in 2020 and had 801 in custody as of Tuesday.

“The conversation around the jail being 250% over capacity feels very disingenuous,” Wittmer said. “You suddenly using the rated capacity when it seems like for years and years the operational capacity is what has actually been in play feels very disingenuous.”

Anna Cubbage, who attended Monday’s rally, voiced a similar sentiment as she asked the board to be clear when discussing expansion. Cubbage referred to an interaction at the Feb. 2 authority board meeting where issues with the advertised price of expansion were brought up.

MRRJ has consistently listed the price of their expansion plans at $40 million, but the board said at the Feb. 2 meeting debt repayments could push that number to $65 million.

“Many members of the public oppose this expansion and one of the things that we’re asking for is consistency and honesty,” she said. “These numbers that are being presented are pretty deceiving and inconsistent. That has to change. That is your responsibility.”

After public comment ended, MRRJ Superintendent Jeffery Newton provided a brief update on the status of the jail. MRRJ hosted a vaccine clinic on Monday in which 48% of inmates received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, he said. The vaccine was offered to any inmate who wanted it.

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