Will new city jail already be overcrowded when it opens?

Posted at 7:56 PM, Dec 06, 2012
and last updated 2012-12-06 20:14:38-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--Construction crews are well into the building a $134 million new justice center, scheduled to open in 2014.

City leaders broke ground earlier this year, after the old jail made headlines for the number of deaths, lack of air-conditioning and severe overcrowding.

As the new structure goes up, the plan is for the problems to go down.

"We have appropriated money in the budget for that purpose,” said City Council Vice President Ellen Robertson.

Plus, money to develop alternative programs for non-violent drug addicts and the mentally ill.

But we're learning that hasn't happened... yet.

Councilwoman Ellen Robertson represents the district.

She says the relocation of the juvenile detention center and staff turnover are the reasons for the hold up.

"They're really scrubbing the numbers to make sure that we're putting the right programs in place.  And they're putting this initiative on the fast track,” said Robertson.

"We're concerned...very concerned because of the fact that we were informed that those things would be taking place,” said Edward Shearn, Jr.

As President of the Eastview Civic League, Edward Shearn says he fought for height restrictions on the building.

"They're view will be looking directly into the jail,” said Shearn.  "We don't like it in our neighborhood.  But since it was done, had already been set.  We have to live with it now.  And they're promise.”

A promise to get rid of the current eyesore and alleviate overcrowding.

The new facility will have 1,032 beds with an additional 114 special beds.  But 1,365 people are housed in the current jail.

"We will accomplish those objectives because the community is not going to stand for us building a jail for we currently have and the community is not going to stand for us overcrowding this jail that we have built,” said Robertson.

And that's exactly what Edward Shearn wants to hear.

"They say they will do it.  And we believe them." 

Ellen Robertson says the City administration will report back to Council in February with a more detailed plan and funding for those programs.

David Hicks, who is currently overseeing the project, says they’re analyzing the data before moving forward.  But tells CBS 6, those programs will be in place when the new justice center opens in 2014.