PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Chesapeake Sheriff Jim O’Sullivan decided late Wednesday afternoon to remove his 149 prisoners from the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth.
His decision follows a similar one last week by the Norfolk sheriff. HRRJ is fighting a shortage of personnel and a critical federal report.
A U.S. Department of Justice report in 2018 was highly critical of the jail’s medical and mental illness programs. The DOJ said the jail was violating civil rights under both the 8th and 14th amendments as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act. HRRJ entered a consent decree to come into compliance.
A spokeswoman for O’Sullivan said he is pulling the inmates out of HRRJ until two conditions are met: the staffing shortages are addressed and the facility is in compliance with the DOJ directives.
Five Hampton Roads cities — Hampton, Newport News, Chesapeake, Norfolk and Portsmouth — are part of the regional jail authority.
Portsmouth Sheriff Michael Moore stopped sending prisoners there two years ago, and just last week Norfolk Sheriff Joe Baron said he will remove his current prisoners — about 120 — over the next two months back to the Norfolk City Jail.
10 On Your Side reported on staff shortages at the regional jail this past fall and HRRJ hired an independent monitor. His report concluded in December that it would be critical to solve the staffing shortage in the first half of this year.
In a statement Friday, Baron cited the staffing shortage and a lack of a plan to resolve it and comply with the consent decree for his decision to remove his prisoners from HRRJ.
Interim jail Superintendent Jeff Vergakis pointed to retirements and resignations for the issues. According to records from February’s board meeting, HRRJ had 94 staff members resign in 2020, half of those coming without advance notice to jail management.
The jail has more resources to house inmates with advanced medical and mental illness conditions. While four inmates died in February alone, none were by suicide.
Last year, a 48-year-old officer died after contracting COVID-19. Last month, 62 people at the jail tested positive. By Wednesday, the updated figure was zero.
A former guard told 10 On Your Side fear of getting the disease was a key reason for many of the abrupt resignations.