Rockbridge Regional Jail faces budget cuts

Photo of the front of Rockbridge Regional Jail
The Rockbridge Regional Jail Commission rejected a more than $390,000 proposal to expand the jail’s existing opioid treatment program.

By Jack Hunter 

Inmates entering the Rockbridge Regional Jail with an undiagnosed opioid addiction won’t get the help they need to overcome their drug habits because the area’s jail commission rejected a proposal to expand an existing treatment program. 

The Rockbridge Regional Jail Commission cut a nearly $391,000 proposal to expand the jail’s existing opioid treatment program from the $3.5 million budget that it adopted last week.  

Rockbridge Jail budget graphic
The Rockbridge Regional Jail Commission trimmed operation costs to reach the adopted amount.

“Our concern at this point in time is financial,” said Lexington City Manager Jim Halasz, who chairs the jail commission. “There’s only so much we can push into our budgets.” 

The jail’s existing drug treatment program provides treatment for undiagnosed opioid addicts up to a point. The jail will provide treatment if they are experiencing withdrawal symptoms. But the inmates won’t receive methadone or other treatment options that are designed to help addicts overcome their addictions. 

At issue is whether an inmate received a diagnosis and a treatment plan from a doctor—and when. Inmates get full treatment if they enter the jail with a diagnosis and a plan from a doctor.   

Without a previous diagnosis from a doctor, inmates will receive treatment to keep them as healthy as possible. But their underlying addictions won’t be addressed by the jail. 

Jail Superintendent Derek Almarode included the expanded treatment plan in the proposed budget that he submitted to the jail commission. The treatment plan was developed by MEDIKO, a Richmond-based medical and mental health services provider that has had a contract with the jail since 2017. 

“They are keeping up with current trends, and medicated-assisted treatment is … obviously a current process that we have to deal with, with opioid addiction,” Almarode said. 

The jail commission has seven members, who represent Lexington, Rockbridge County, Buena Vista and Goshen. Its members also include the two local sheriffs and a retired attorney.  

The jail is funded by contributions from Rockbridge County, Buena Vista and Lexington. The jail’s biggest contributor, Rockbridge County, is grappling with a sizable gap in its proposed budget for the next fiscal year. 

Like the rest of the nation, drug abuse is a problem in Rockbridge County. For decades, law enforcement officials described methamphetamine as the most abused drug by people who were arrested locally for a variety of crimes.  

But Buena Vista Interim Police Chief David Clements said fentanyl has become more prevalent in the region over the last six months. 

“You’re seeing a lot of meth is being laced with fentanyl,” Clements said. “I’d say we’ve had at least three overdose deaths where the cause of death has been determined to be related to fentanyl in the last three or four months.” 

Jail commission dismisses expensive proposal

In its recommendation, MEDIKO warned the jail commission that it could be sued over the lack of care for inmates who are addicts. “The DOJ (U.S. Department of Justice) is coming after jails and prisons for denying” inmates access to medications to treat what’s known as opioid use disorder. 

MEDIKO told the jail commission that medicated-assisted treatment “saves lives and reduces recidivism rates.” 

But the jail commission said MEDIKO’s proposed plan was too expensive. Several members said the commission would need state or federal aid to pay for it right now. 

“It’s not mandated,” Rockbridge County Administrator Spencer Suter said. “That is a huge increase over one year that we just couldn’t handle.” 

Suter and Halasz comprise the commission’s finance committee. They eliminated MEDIKO’s proposal before the jail commission met last week to finalize its budget for the upcoming fiscal year, beginning July 1. 

“In my career, I’ve found there’s a potential for a lawsuit, (in) anything you do,” Halasz said. “What we’re trying to do is make sure we’re meeting the law and providing good care for the inmates that are in our custody. That’s what we’re trying to do.” 

The commission cut about $60,000 from the jail’s operating and capital budgets. Even so, the jail will double its weekly psychiatric tele-medicine hours to eight from four.  

“I think anything we can do to assist, that we can afford to assist with, we will end up doing,” Suter said.