WTRJ Superintendent gives U.S. Marshals update

Published 10:27 am Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Western Tidewater Regional Jail in Suffolk. --  FILE

Western Tidewater Regional Jail in Suffolk. — FILE

FRANKLIN—Western Tidewater Regional Jail Superintendent William Smith gave the state of the jail report to the Franklin City Council on Monday, including the deal with the U.S. Marshals Service.

Smith thanked council for its help in sending members to Washington D.C. to meet with Virginia Congressman Randy Forbes, which he said helped in getting a deal with the marshals at a rate of $55 per inmate per day, where it had previously been $65 per day. The Intergovernmental Agreement also includes a stipulation that if the Marshal Service provides an average of at least 75 inmates per month, that transportation is free.

This matches an offer that came from the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office in August, when the Marshals Service notified jail officials that it would remove all but 50 inmates to accept the Virginia Beach rate for economic reasons. The Marshals Service did not have to give WTRJ a counter offer, and it would have caused a budget shortfall that could have caused the three localities, Suffolk, Franklin and Isle of Wight County, to pay for it. Smith said jail officials were also told that the decision had come from the top.

After meeting in Washington D.C., however, Smith said that something was fishy. If it was truly a cost-saving mechanism, why did they not accept the Norfolk offer, which was $20 per inmate per day cheaper? Smith also said that he was told that the U.S. Marshals headquarters did not know of the decision.

After several meetings, including the visit to the Capitol, the inmates transferred were returned and everything was put on hold. On Jan. 8, the intergovernmental agreement was signed, though Smith said the U.S. Marshals Service could break it at any time after 30 days.

“When you have a contract with the federal government, they get a lot of rights and yours are limited,” Smith said. “They can stop bringing inmates anytime they want.”

He added the U.S. Marshals cannot renegotiate the contract terms for 36 months.

With the contract, Smith said, there would still be a shortfall, with the best-case scenario requiring Isle of Wight County and Franklin to budget an additional $384,000 next year, while Suffolk will have to come up with $1.6 million.

Smith said the 85 inmates Franklin has housed in the jail are costing $570,990 per year. The cheapest contract deal out in the region was Virginia Beach, which would cost Franklin $2,044,858 per year. For Isle of Wight, for 68 inmates, was projected to pay $647,123 for 2014. In Virginia Beach, the rate would be $1,635,886 per year for Isle of Wight.

Smith also added that the jail authority consistently receives grades of 100 each year from the U.S. Marshals Service, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Virginia Department of Corrections.

After talking about ratings, Smith opened it up to questions, and Ward 3 Counselor Greg McLemore asked how the prisoners rate the jail.

“We don’t receive a lot of grievances or complaints,” Smith said. “You do get some. For instance, some will complain about getting their medication. But when we check into it, we find out they didn’t get out of bed to come get it.

“We don’t find a lot of justified complaints. Every now and then, we get a few.”

After Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn tried to move the meeting along, McLemore interjected that he was concerned about the inmates, and that council does not get a lot of opportunities to talk to Smith in person.

“A lot of the time, I don’t know if boards that are funding the facilities are aware of the things that go on,” McLemore said. “They just fund it.”

Ward 1 Councilor Barry Cheatham, who also serves on the jail authority board, said that jails do not get 100s without running a clean facility that meets all of the parties’ needs.

“We are respected by the federal government,” Cheatham said. “We get prisoners to court on time. We are easy to access by attorneys — a lot of jails don’t have that. And we are constantly looking at upgrading and making things better.

“Now, I don’t think you are going to go in and find them saying that it is a wonderful place to be. It is not meant to be.”

Smith added that he ran an open facility, and that civil rights are important to him. He also said that during the audits that the government interviews inmates.

“I don’t tolerate any violations of laws or civil rights,” he said. “If you work for me, you will be looking for another job if you violate the rules.”

McLemore was also concerned about the jail authority trying to make a profit.

“If it is costing $25 to actually take care of someone each day, and you are charging $55, there is a profit being made,” he said. “You are cheating the people of Virginia.”

City Attorney Taylor Williams said that it is allowable by the code of Virginia to keep that confidential.

“It is not fair for him to disclose what is used to make a bid to get business,” he said.

Smith said 20 years ago, when entering into an intergovernmental service agreement with the U.S. Marshals, it was open book. You showed your expenses and revenues, and they devised a rate, which was $65 a day per inmate.

The new system, which was devised three years ago, requires Smith to enter costs and expenses into a spreadsheet that they submit along with a bid.

“I cannot make a profit on that,” he said. “I may be able to cover the costs of programs, but not at a profit. If I enter in $100 per day, they will send back that I am out of line. On the reverse, I can’t put a number too low either. They’ll send back, ‘that’s not going to work either.’”

Smith welcomed McLemore and anyone on council to visit the facility. He also said he was open to talking with parents with concerns, citing that numerous complaints have been resolved successfully.

“If you email me, I’ll get it,” he said. Smith can be contacted at smithw@wtrj.org.