Families left in the dark about the safety of loved ones in Richmond Jail: 'This is a state of emergency'

Posted at 6:52 PM, Apr 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-26 10:36:02-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- More than a dozen family members and advocates showed up at Richmond City Hall Tuesday afternoon to raise concerns and demand answers about the safety of their loved ones who are incarcerated at the Richmond City Jail. Many of them went before Richmond City Council's Public Safety Committee to make their concerns public.

“Can you help my family? My son is a victim as an inmate in the Richmond City Jail. He was almost murdered. I could be planning a funeral today," one woman, who said her son was stabbed inside the jail, told the committee. "And contacting the city jail officials, no one can answer anything."

She said she didn't find out that her son was attacked until a week after it happened.

"Something has to be done. My son could have died," she said. "They wouldn't have answered one of my questions. Not even majors, not even chiefs. Nobody. They kept dismissing me like I was nothing."

Another woman told the committee her son recently went through a "traumatic" experience at the jail but did not want to publicly elaborate on the details.

"It is something that no one should ever go through. No family should ever worry about their family member not coming home from jail," she said. "Something definitely has to be done, and I'm not asking. I'm demanding in the name of my son, her son, and everyone else's son, uncle, brother, sister, family member, and friend. It's ridiculous."

Advocates with Black Lives Matter RVA joined the families in support, also speaking before the committee.

"Watching the sheriff on the news as of late, it seems like, from the staff's position, there's no problem, but the families are here today to say that there's a huge problem happening in the city jail," one advocate said.

Another concerned citizen who said she was formerly incarcerated at the Richmond City Justice Center called on the committee to take action.

"Who's going to intervene for these people? Who's going to speak up for them? They're not able to speak up. Family members are calling. They can't get information. That's unacceptable," she said. "This is a state of emergency. People are dying."

She posed a question to members of the committee, saying, "How many more deaths need to occur before someone will do something? Before someone will stand up and speak for those who can't speak for themselves? That's your job. You were voted. You campaigned and petitioned. We elected. Here we are. What are you going to do?"


The Public Safety Committee is made up of Councilor Reva Trammell (8th District), Councilor Kristen Nye (4th District), and Councilor Ann-Frances Lambert (3rd District).

Trammell and Nye were present for the public comment period. Lambert was not.

Trammell, who serves as the committee's chairperson, addressed the community members' concerns saying there was not much she can do to help them.

Since Sheriff Antionette Irving, who runs the jail, is a constitutional officer elected by voters, she is not accountable to the council.

"We have no authority," Trammell said. "I don't have answers. We have been here over and over and over."

Trammell said she has tried raising her concerns about the jail to state officials. She wrote a letter to Governor Glenn Youngkin's Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Bob Mosier requesting a formal investigation into operations at the jail by the state Board of Local and Regional Jails.

She said she has not received an update to her request.

Ryan McCord, Executive Director of the Board of Local and Regional Jails, previously said the board's oversight of local jails is limited to auditing, inspections, and investigations of inmate deaths. McCord said once the board has completed reviews of the jail's recent inmate deaths, it would decide whether additional oversight of the facility is needed.

Councilor Nye echoed Trammell's sentiments.

"We are in an uncomfortable position because the sheriff does not report to City Council. She is an elected official, just like we are," Nye said.

Both Nye and Trammell encouraged the families to keep sharing the stories and potentially protest outside the jail.

"I think it's really important to continue to just rally and tell your stories and have it out there," Nye said.

Family members told CBS 6 they were disappointed with the responses from the committee and felt that they were not helpful.


Sheriff Irving has been under recent scrutiny as five inmates have died in a year's time.

She's also facing a major shortage of deputies and has previously acknowledged challenges related to drugs and security at the facility.

“We've been talking about these same concerns for months. Why do you think family members keep coming forward with safety concerns?” reporter Tyler Layne asked Sheriff Irving Tuesday.

“Well, family members are continuing to come because they're not getting the answers that they feel they deserve," Irving said. "We're dealing with adults here, and we have to make sure that we're communicating with the actual individual that is here. And then they're responsible to provide information to their family members."

"Do you feel like your office doesn't have an effective way of communicating with loved ones and family members about what happens to the inmates?" Layne asked.

"I'm not sure if you can call it ineffective but when they call, of course, we've got people answering calls and we're answering the call in the order that we received them, and they may not be getting the answers that they want," Irving said.

She then compared her office's method of communicating with families to how they communicate with news reporters.

“You guys know how we answer you. They’re getting similar responses until we can have the appropriate information to provide them," Irving said.

Irving said she met with the family members who spoke at Tuesday's meeting and is working to address their questions.

She maintained that her staff is providing proper security.

"As far as the safety and security goes, we're doing the best job that we possibly can. Even if we were fully staffed, as in any other facility, there would be some things that are going to happen, because unfortunately, it is a jail... but we have minimal incidents," she said.

Irving gave an update on staffing levels. She said she now has about 185 deputy vacancies out of 385 total positions. In December, Irving said she had about 160 vacancies.

She said the progressively worse numbers are due to recent retirements and the "tough sell" of working in public safety.

She's hopeful that when deputy salaries increase in July, it could attract potential candidates.

Irving said deputies are doing the required mandatory checks of pods every hour, but some pods may not have a deputy assigned for monitoring.

"There are certain pods that are mandatory that somebody has to be on and there are certain pods that they're not," Irving said. "It depends on what time of day it is. If they're asleep, then there'll be maybe less activity from the staff because they're to be locked in their cells."

"Are you doing a good job running the jail?" Layne asked.

"I think we're doing a good job. We always can do better," Irving said. "We've passed our past three audits, and people have come in and we're doing everything that we're supposed to be doing."

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