Hampton Roads Regional Jail closes down

Virginia has one less jail. As of yesterday, Hampton Roads Regional Jail is officially closed.

The facility at 2690 Elmhurst Lane in Portsmouth opened in 1998, and before closing, it was used to house inmates from Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, and Portsmouth.

HHRJ’s cells have been empty since March 20. Inmates were moved to their home jurisdictions.

The HHRJ Board voted to pay off a $14 million bond, and the April 1 closure, which was announced in November, marked the final day for the jail, Kelly Curry, executive assistant at HHRJ told Wavy 10 Norfolk.

HHRJ had its share of news coverage “for all the wrong reasons,” reminded Fox News 43’s Katie Collett. That included legal issues, like a 2-year investigation by the DOJ in 2018, which found that jail violated the rights of prisoners with mental health issues and disabilities, reported WAVY 10.

13 News Now shared a snippet from a document related to that probe where U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia said, “Our investigation uncovered evidence of significant violations of inmates’ constitutional rights to adequate medical and mental health care, as well as violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

There were also multiple inmate deaths at the facility in years passed, noted 13 News Now.

But according to HHRJ Board Chair Bob Geis those weren’t the reasons for the closure. It came down to rising costs and an inability to hire staff, he explained during a 13 News Now interview.

Geis said HHRJ had agreed to an improvement plan with the DOJ, but executing that plan required more staffing, which is something the jail was already struggling with.

“It just became apparent that the model was failing and that we weren’t going to be able to continue to operate. The model was no longer functioning,” Geis said.

Portsmouth Vice Mayor, Lisa Lucas-Burke, another HHRJ Board, also told 13 News Now that HHRJ’s model was no longer sustainable. And the difficulty operating the facility came as, not only the staff, but the inmate population continued dwindling.

Geis, who serves as deputy city manager in Chesapeake, said it cost twice as much as to house inmates at HHRJ as using Chesapeake’s own jail. And he said, the city was required to pay for a certain number of beds that Chesapeake wasn’t filling.

Likewise, Portsmouth Sheriff Michael Moore also viewed the facility as under-used noting that taxpayers money was being spent to give the city access to beds at HHRJ when there is no overcrowding problem at the Portsmouth Jail.

Moore said he would be open to exploring the HHRJ facility as a new home for the Portsmouth Jail. According to Lucas-Burke, city leaders are eyeing it for just that.

The current Portsmouth Jail is on the waterfront, noted Lucas-Burke. We need to be able to offer that to a prime developer to be able to develop our waterfront into something beautiful that will attract visitors, she said.

Meanwhile, Portsmouth is reportedly in negotiations for the HHRJ site.

Although the facility is closed, jail’s board is set to remain in tact for the next couple years.

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