Riverside Regional Jail to remain open

Published 5:54 pm Tuesday, October 5, 2021

The Riverside Regional Jail, which serves Surry County and six other localities, will remain open despite a state committee’s recommendation that it be decertified and closed in the wake of recent inmate deaths.

The committee, tasked with investigating three inmate deaths at the facility — one in 2019 and two in 2020 — had published preliminary findings in April concluding “acts or omissions” by jail staff “may have directly or indirectly contributed to the death of these inmates” by allegedly failing to meet minimum state standards pertaining to suicide intervention and the inmates’ medical care, and in one case, allegedly falsifying and/or destroying records. Riverside Regional filed a notice of objections to the committee’s findings on June 4.

According to reporting by ABC News affiliate WRIC, the State Board of Local and Regional Jails — the governing body to which the committee reports — voted on Sept. 22 to enter into a consent agreement with Riverside Regional, the terms of which were discussed behind closed doors with media representatives “sequestered and placed on another floor in a holding room with an armed guard.”

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The Smithfield Times obtained a copy of the signed agreement Oct. 1, which states the document “does not constitute an admission by Riverside Regional Jail Authority” regarding the committee’s findings and mandates the jail designate at least one command-level staff position with the rank of captain or higher to be responsible for ensuring the jail stays compliant with minimum state standards for inmate care.

This officer is to interview post supervisors as necessary and review documents, including daily security rounds reports and intake screening records. If there are any discrepancies with state standards, he or she is to immediately report the alleged violations “through the appropriate chain of command” and discuss them “with the supervisors of that area for immediate corrective action.”

At the end of each week, the officer is to prepare a report of all weekly findings and any corrective action taken, and submit it to Riverside’s superintendent, Col. Larry Leabough, all of which will be provided monthly to the board.

Riverside Regional is further mandated to provide each inmate with an inmate orientation checklist and handbook “containing the required information about access to medical and mental health care upon initial screening and intake into the facility.”

According to the agreement, Riverside Regional changed its medical and mental health care provider and obtained full accreditation by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care as of June 28, 2021. “A nurse triages the detainees within the sally port area prior to entry into the facility,” the agreement states.

The agreement also states Riverside Regional is in the process of programming an electronics security inspection system, “which will eliminate the ability of corrections officers to mis-record or misrepresent security inspections.”

Should there be any violations of the agreement or state standards, or should Riverside Regional self-report a standards violation, the agreement requires the Board, “prior to initiating or proposing any penalties or sanctions,” to provide the jail “written notice of its concerns” and an opportunity to meet with the Board or its executive director.

In July, Surry County’s Board of Supervisors had voted unanimously to pass a resolution opposing the jail’s closure. County Administrator Melissa Rollins, at the July meeting, had argued the jail’s closure would place an “undue burden” on smaller jurisdictions that use the jail, like Surry, Charles City and Prince George counties, and that housing the county’s inmates at a different regional jail would likely come at a much higher cost.

The jail, which is located in Prince George County just outside the city of Hopewell, has served Surry County and its six other localities since it opened in 1997. The Petersburg-based Progress Index reports it was built to house 800 inmates but by 2003 had grown in average daily population to more than 1,000. According to Surry’s resolution in support of keeping the jail open, the facility’s average daily number of local, state and federal inmates now totals more than 1,300. Only 10 are from Surry County, according to Lt. Charlene Jones, a spokeswoman for the jail.

According to past reporting by the Associated Press and the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the state had previously imposed “probationary certification” on the jail in 2019 following a similar investigation into the 2017 deaths of a 32-year-old inmate found hanging in his cell just after his arrest on charges including petit larceny, and another inmate who died of an apparent suicide less than a month later. That time, the committee said the jail violated inmate supervision and screening regulations.

The new agreement “supplants the entirety of the Probation Order,” and resolves the investigation into the 2019 and 2020 deaths, the document states.

The agreement has a term of 24 months starting Sept. 25.