City Council Takes First Step to Fix Jail Overcrowding


Harrisonburg, Va. (WHSV) -- It is cramped quarters at the Rockingham Regional Jail. Now Harrisonburg City Council is moving forward with a plan to look at possibly building a new jail.

"[It's] imilar to most people's aversion to taxes," said council member Abe Shearer. "Not like we all yearn to build a new jail or find more space for people, but we're kind of mandated to find a place to put them or a way to do that."

The Harrisonburg/Rockingham jail is 40 inmates over capacity when they are double-bunked, according to Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson. More than 100 inmates are housed at Middle River Regional Jail in Augusta County, Hutcheson said.

"I've said it before, and I'll say it again," said council member Kai Degner: "I just don't want to go down the road where building is an inevitability, and we're not looking at alternative sentencing and other things that require other partnerships to implement but can be a lot more cost-effective and effective other ways."

Harrisonburg Mayor Ted Byrd says looking into alternatives will be part of the "Community Based Corrections Plan" required by the state before work could be done to build or expand the jail.

"This is a step we have to take," Byrd said.

Overcrowding is an issue with which the jail has grappled for years.

In 2000, then-sheriff Don Farley reported that 19 inmates had to sleep on the floor.

Overcrowding also came up as an issue during the 2011 campaign for sheriff.

Now City Council is taking the first step to lock up the issue.

"I think the sooner we do this the better, so that we get in line as soon as possible for the availability of any state funds that we're going to need for the project," said Vice Mayor Charlie Chenault.

Assistant City Manager Anne Lewis says if they move forward with the plan now, final plans likely would go before the General Assembly as part of the state's budget in 2016. Lewis says Rockingham County is slated to take up the issue at a meeting on Wednesday.


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