By Tate Mikkelsen
The Rockbridge Regional Jail wants inmates to begin paying $3 a day while they are locked up.
The fee is part of the ongoing debate over the Rockbridge County Regional Jail Commission’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018-19.
The $3 daily fee would go toward the jail’s operating expenses, said the jail’s Acting Superintendent Derek Almarode.
Currently, inmates do not pay any such fee.
Candace Bane, the jail’s assistant superintendent, said inmates won’t be punished if they cannot pay the fee. “Some just cannot do it,” she said. “It would be like squeezing blood from a turnip.”
When built in 1988, the single bunk jail was supposed to hold about 50 inmates. Today, the cells are double-bunked to accommodate about 120 inmates, Almarode said.
The jail commission is trying to figure out how to cover two big-ticket items: The jail entered into a contract with a new medical vendor, Mediko Correctional Healthcare in Richmond. Officials also want to hire three more staff members.
David Hinty, a member of the commission and the county board of supervisors, said the $3 inmate fee could raise $80,000 to $90,000 a year.
The fee system is used in other Virginia regional jails, Almarode said.
Almarode said that if an inmate can’t pay the $3-a-day fee, nothing happens. Inmates would be released after serving their sentences.
Inmates often have jobs while they’re incarcerated, and they are paid miniscule wages, which are deposited in accounts at the facility. Family and friends also can make deposits in those accounts. Inmates use the money to buy incidentals.
The negative balance would stay on the account if an inmate commits another offense and is jailed again, Almarode said.
All states allow inmates to be charged for room and board. In Virginia, the fee is capped at $3 a day, according the Brennan Center for Justice, which is part of the New York University School of Law.
The Brennan Center also found that an estimated 10 million people owe more than $50 billion to the criminal justice system nationwide.
The jail’s budgetary costs are shared proportionately by Rockbridge County, Buena Vista and Lexington.
Buena Vista City Manager Jay Scudder said he thinks officials should monitor inmate population trends and research the need for staffing before approving the budget.
“I know our trend of jail inmates has been up, you can’t deny that. What I’m wondering is how up?” said Scudder. “When you look at the cost of incarceration for different types of crimes, you start going, how’s everyone benefiting? The inmates, the safety of the jurisdiction, the balance of tax payers dollars.”