Regional jail to remain open despite earlier call for decertification


RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — The embattled Hampton Roads Regional Jail will remain open after a vote this week by the Virginia Board of Local and Regional Jails, six months after a board committee was highly critical of the Portsmouth lockup.

Members of the board’s Jail Review Committee said during their April meeting that HRRJ showed “wanton disregard for minimum standards and a lack of sufficient trained staff” and called HRRJ “a significant threat to public safety.” The committee had just reviewed four inmate deaths in 2018-2019.

The committee cited a lack of supervision of inmates, inadequate medical and mental health care and improper well-being checks among other deficiencies. Their recommendation was that HRRJ be decertified and that inmates held there be returned to their original jurisdiction.

The regional jail is the go-to lockup for inmates with special medical and mental health needs. It serves five of the seven cities — Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Hampton and Newport News — however, three of those have stopped sending inmates there following a highly critical report in late 2018 from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Portsmouth Sheriff Michael Moore stopped sending inmates to HRRJ in 2019, and then sheriffs from Norfolk and Chesapeake stopped earlier this year.

The DOJ concluded in its report that HRRJ’s medical and mental health services were grossly deficient. As part of a consent decree, the regional jail agreed to periodic monitoring to gauge compliance moving forward.

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The monitor’s May 31 report cited significant improvement in communication between healthcare staff and security staff, a reduction in the use of pepper spray to control unruly inmates, and fewer inmates with serious mental illness being assigned to restrictive housing.

The monitor praised Interim Superintendent Jeff Vergakis for creating a better atmosphere for problem-solving. The monitor concluded that compliance would be a slow process but current efforts were a great beginning.

Earlier this week the board voted in favor of keeping the jail open.

The chair of the Hampton Roads Regional Jail Authority Brian Deprofio said in a statement he was pleased to have reached an agreement with the board on a corrective action plan, and that it would be made public after it was finalized.

Norfolk Sheriff Joe Barron had no comment when contacted by 10 On Your Side. Chesapeake Sheriff Jim O’Sullivan says he will wait for more information. We also reached out to the chair of the state Board of Local and Regional Jails Olivia Garland and Portsmouth Sheriff Michael Moore, but they did not immediately respond.

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