Building a new jail was once an alluring possibility; it offered the chance to keep or expand local jobs and maintain control. However, the cost of a new facility would be between $50 million and $90 million. That’s money that the city not only doesn’t have, but can’t borrow due to debt limits hampered by The Falls development and the landfill.
A new jail was never a solution; it was an unaffordable Band-Aid on a much larger problem.
The city has actually considered — and rejected — the regional authority option three times already, but made no change because it was more expensive than staying the course.
As vice mayor, current Mayor Bill Hartley said that while the authority may be more expensive in the short-term, it will probably be more cost-effective in the long term. Joining the regional authority shifts inmates to facilities around Southwest Virginia. The city would pay the authority a set rate per inmate per day and would no longer have to maintain its own aging facility.
Hartley, at the April 27 meeting, alluded to the fact that previous negotiations with the regional authority included securing employment for impacted city corrections officers. Time will tell, but, hopefully, many current jail employees would be able to find work there.
Importantly, the City Council’s move also helps to avoid the possibility of a real human crisis in housing far too many inmates in a crumbling structure.