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Problem Solvers question jail oversight board: How will the state respond to Richmond Jail concerns?

Posted at 5:17 PM, Jan 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-18 17:50:36-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- For the first time since City of Richmond officials, families of inmates, and community advocates recently sounded the alarm about safety challenges at the Richmond City Jail, the group of state officials that oversees local jails has responded.

Calls for state intervention came after a string of inmate deaths, reported assaults on staff, and a significant shortage of deputies.

In December 2022, Richmond Councilperson Reva Trammell sent a formal letter to the Board of Local and Regional Jails requesting an investigation into the facility for compliance with state regulations. Several of Trammell's colleagues on Richmond City Council said they supported her efforts.

The Board of Local and Regional Jails, which falls under the Department of Corrections, is comprised of nine members appointed by the governor to oversee, regulate, and investigate facilities across Virginia.

Ryan McCord serves as the public body's executive director and Vernie Francis, Jr. is the board chairman.

On Wednesday, the board met at the Department of Corrections Headquarters in Richmond. While the Richmond City Jail was not on the agenda and not addressed by board members during the meeting, CBS 6 Problem Solver Tyler Layne asked to speak with Francis after the meeting concluded.

Francis initially said he did not want to make any comments about the Richmond Jail but proceeded to answer Layne's questions.

Tyler Layne jail interview 02.png

“We’ll handle all the investigations of any facility the same way, through the process, treat every facility the exact same way," Francis said.

Though Francis did not specifically comment on requests for an investigation into the jail's operations, he described the process by which the board responds to inmate deaths:

  • Deaths are reported to the board within 24 hours and assigned to investigators
  • Investigators gather information to report back to the board's Jail Review Committee
  • The committee reviews the cases for potential violations in the circumstances surrounding deaths
  • If violations are discovered, the facility must develop a corrective action plan to present to the board
  • The board approves or disapproves of the plan

During Wednesday's meeting, the board cleared 10 different cases in which no violations were found.

Board members referred to the cases generally and did not provide public information about where the case occurred.

Francis told the CBS 6 Problem Solvers none of the cases involved the Richmond City Jail.

“In the past year, there’s been four deaths at the facility and three in the past three months. Is that an unusually high number based on your experience dealing with this work?" Layne asked.

“It’s hard to predict deaths, and it’s hard to predict when they occur and when they don’t occur, so I don’t really have any comment on that," Francis responded.

Prior to the interview with Francis, McCord said, through an email, the board did not have a comment on CBS 6 Problem Solvers' questions about the jail.

The Problem Solvers then submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for the board's recent email communications related to the jail.

McCord said the board withheld 50 records, citing a FOIA exemption that applies to information about imprisoned people.

The board withheld an additional 75 records, citing an exemption that applies to working papers of the Governor's Office.

While the content of those records is unclear, a spokesperson for the Governor's Office previously said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Bob Mosier had been in contact with McCord about the city jail.

“Do you have a message for any of the families who are worried for the safety of their inmates at the jail and how the board will respond?” Layne asked Francis.

“Again, the board will do the investigations on this jail just like they do every other one," Francis said.

A state inspection from September 2022 and a state audit from April 2021, which were presented to and certified by the board, showed the jail was in full compliance with life, health, and safety standards.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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