Former guard, superintendent disagree on staffing, COVID-19, safety at Hampton Roads Regional Jail


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A former corrections officer at Hampton Roads Regional Jail says fears of COVID-19 are causing guards to walk away, creating a staff shortage and a volatile atmosphere.

Lebrea Manley, 27, worked as a guard beginning in August 2018. She contracted COVID-19 three months ago, quarantined for two weeks, but she quit in September because of concerns about her health and her safety.

“When I came back, I was placed around inmates who had COVID as well, and I decided to leave.”

Superintendent Chris Walz says the facility provides personal protective equipment to staff while they’re working.

Notes from a recent jail board meeting show 51 vacancies, including 10 added positions. People listed short-staffing, being overworked and fear of COVID-19 among their reasons for leaving.

“Because they’re short-staffed, they’re always locked down,” Manley said. “They already don’t have visitation due to the pandemic. When they do have video visits, they’re getting canceled because of short-staffing, [It’s] causing the inmates to act out.”

HRRJ staff sent Walz a letter Sept. 21, voicing concerns about staffing levels, the spread of COVID and conditions in general.

“Having one officer running multiple pods, that’s a lot on one person, safety-wise, mentally,” Manley said.

Walz said at times movement in the jail was at a minimum, and that would include lockdowns and canceled video visits. Walz says these measures were taken for overall safety and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The board approved hazard pay for staff who were employed from March 30 through Sept. 30.
Manley left Sept. 18., but because she wasn’t a current employee when it was approved in late October, she doesn’t get the $1,200 hazard pay bonus.

“It made me angry because I felt that I deserved it. I was there and I worked those months. I caught COVID and I still came back.”

Walz says law enforcement and correctional facilities nationwide are experiencing a decrease in applications and retention and Hampton Roads Regional is no exception.

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