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Harrisonburg / Rockingham to Join Regional Jail Authority

Scratch that $63 million jail that Harrisonburg and Rockingham County recently told the state they’d like to build.

At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, they announced a much cheaper plan to join Augusta County, Waynesboro and Staunton in the Middle River Regional Jail Authority.  WMRA's Andrew Jenner reports.

The deal calls for Harrisonburg and Rockingham to pay $21.5 million to buy into the authority, which runs the Middle River Regional Jail in Verona. The newly expanded group will then split debt service and operating costs based on the number of inmates each member sends there.

Waynesboro City Manager Mike Hamp said this is good fiscal news for everyone.

MIKE HAMP: The expense of the facility, the expense of staff to run the facility, the expense of programs are shared among a greater number of member jurisdictions, and to that extent I think the chief benefits are largely financial budgetary ones.

The buy-in guarantees Harrisonburg and Rockingham County 250* beds at Middle River. The existing jail in downtown Harrisonburg will remain open, but the localities won’t be building anything new.

CHRIS JONES: Christopher B. Jones, mayor of the City of Harrisonburg. There won’t be any new brick and mortar, and I’m really excited about that. That there won’t be any expansion or extensions or building a new physical jail in Harrisonburg. We did need to take care of the overcrowding problem, which we were able to do by making a compromise with our neighbors.

Overcrowding in the Rockingham-Harrisonburg jail led to loud calls in those communities to explore cheaper and better alternative responses to crime. The deal announced this week includes commitments to pursue several of these, including weekender and work-release programs and improved mental health and substance abuse services. The regional jail authority will also look at launching a day-reporting program, officials say. Here’s Jones again.

JONES: It is my pleasure and my heart’s desire that we don’t have to use any of these beds, and that we have a safer, less violent, more cohesive, more communal Harrisonburg.

Expansion of the Middle River Regional Jail Authority should be formalized next month, and take effect on July 1.

*Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the deal guarantees Harrisonburg and Rockingham County 150 beds in the Middle River Regional Jail. The correct number is 250.

Andrew Jenner is a freelance reporter based in Harrisonburg. After working as a journalist in the Shenandoah Valley for a decade, he spent three years living and reporting in Brazil, returning to Harrisonburg in the summer of 2018. Andrew has reported for TheAtlantic.com, The Washington Post, Deutsche Welle, Discover, Modern Farmer, and many others. He is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University, has a MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Goucher College, and almost made it onto Jeopardy! a few years ago.
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