December 8, 2022

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Regional jail seeks Nelson County contribution to major renovation costs | Latest News

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Nelson County could start contributing to the cost of major renovations to Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail in fiscal year 2024.

ACRJ Superintendent Martin Kumer and Vice President of Moseley Architects Tony Bell outlined the timeline, scope and cost of renovations for the board of supervisors at its April 12 meeting. The board took no action on the project at the meeting but Kumer said he will return in August or September to ask the county for a resolution to continue.

Kumer told the board the jail’s last expansion in 2000 brought its capacity to 329, but its average daily population has been as high as 600 in 2008 and as low as 265 in January 2022.

He said 265 was “the lowest population we’ve had in that jail since 2000. I’ve been here 25 years, that’s the lowest I remember.”

Kumer explained the jail’s board was faced with two choices at its population high in 2008, when inmates were sleeping on mats in the gymnasiums and in holding tanks: either expand again or focus on reducing the jail’s population. The ACRJ board chose the latter, partnering with the Bureau of Justice and forming a Community Criminal Justice Board representing Albemarle, Charlottesville and Nelson County.

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Kumer said the board looked to the source: “What crimes are being committed in our communities that are driving our populations? How can we mitigate those crimes?”

He said local prosecutors stopped putting people in jail for minor offenses and ACRJ and the community started addressing inmate substance abuse problems. The jail also started interviewing inmates upon entry.

“We try to determine why you continue to commit crimes,” Kumer said, adding software then suggests programs tailored to the individual.

“And we found over the years we have slowly begun to chip away at that population.”

Kumar said a community based corrections needs study did not indicate the inmate population would increase substantially in the future and the renovation therefore will not expand the jail’s capacity.

Kumar said the renovation will involve replacing the jail’s 50-year old HVAC system, installing an air filtration system effective against viruses and bacteria and installing more efficient, resource-conserving toilets, shower heads and faucets.

The improved facility will also be better equipped to rehabilitate the 67% of ACRJ inmates who Kumar said suffer from some type of mental illness.

The renovations will make use of sound-deadening materials and stress-reducing colors and increase access to natural sunlight. Kumar said when he gave a tour of ACRJ to supervisors Ernie Reed and Jesse Rutherford, they noticed the constant noise and lack of direct sunlight throughout the jail.

The renovations will also add programming and classroom space and technology to enable virtual programming and visitations and increase square footage per inmate in housing areas among other improvements.

Bell said renovations will make the jail comply with existing jail standards

He estimated construction will begin in August 2024 and take 15 to 16 months for final completion in November 2025. Bell told the board the total estimated cost to the three localities will be $36.8 million if the state reimburses 25% of the overall $49 million cost. He said ACRJ will find out whether the General Assembly will fund the 25% in June.

Kumar presented a timeline for Nelson’s share of debt for the renovations. He said the county’s current share of ACRJ’s annual operational cost, based on the percentage of inmates from Nelson County, is $1.2 million and is budgeted to increase 1% every fiscal year. According to his presentation, in fiscal year 2024 the county would have a $20,654 debt service payment that increases each year until fiscal year 28 when it plateaus at $350,210 to make Nelson County’s total contribution to the ACRJ budget total $1.6 million in 2028.

“So you’re looking at an additional $350,000 for the next 20 years. That’s a cost to Nelson County,” Kumar said.

He also presented Albemarle County and Charlottesville’s anticipated debt service payments, based on their higher contributions to the ACRJ inmate population. Albemarle’s total cost for ACRJ operations and renovation debt service is anticipated to be $5.8 million in fiscal year 2028. Charlottesville’s total cost will be $5.2 million.

“When I talk about improving space for inmates, I’ve had people say, ‘Why would you do that? Why would you spend taxpayer money on improving conditions for inmates?’” Kumar said. He explained he’s also interested in improving the jail as a workplace.

“I have 160 people who work in the environment I just described every single day. I want to improve the environment for them.”

North District Supervisor Tommy Harvey weighed in: “The problem is we don’t have the money in most cases to fund our school system and this kind of jumps over that. And I’ve got a big problem with that.”

Kumar also talked about the financial incentive to improvements.

“As Nelson County knows, recidivism and high crime has a real cost to it,” he said, adding, “If I can get them [inmates] to a healthy place when they leave my door, it’s easier to keep them healthy. If I get them to a point where they don’t want to commit crimes, or don’t necessarily need to, or are less likely to: less draw on your resources locally.”

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