We, the undersigning organizations, call on the Cities of Harrisonburg and Waynesboro to revise the $14.5 million renovation plan approved at the Middle River Regional Jail (MRRJ) authority meeting that took place on June 1, 2021. These renovations add an expansion of 32,000 square feet (that’s the size of half a soccer field). We demand that the three mayors and two board chairs, representing the five jurisdictions, come back to the negotiating table to remove all the items that expand the square footage and limit the funding to exclusively fixing elements of the existing facility, without adding square footage nor additional bed space. (See renovation plan here on page 27)
Jail population numbers are decreasing
In the last few months, thanks to public pressure and the jail authority’s diligence, the jail population numbers have dropped by almost 25%. As of January, 2021, the total jail population was 845, and today this number is at 696. We believe that incarceration numbers will continue to come down and that there will be no need for MRRJ to expand square footage. By working together with public elected officials and entities of the criminal legal system, these numbers will continue to drop as we release people in jail awaiting trial (pre-trial population at MRRJ is currently 295 people), people arrested for nonviolent offenses, and people needing treatment for mental health and substance use disorders. We do NOT need a bigger jail.
The original expansion plan included an increase in administration and square footage to keep up with the new beds. The updated proposal doesn’t add beds, but it still calls for the other increases that were supposedly only needed for new beds. While this new proposal adds no beds, it appears that the other capacity-building “improvements” remain on the table unaltered. The jail authority’s contention that the new proposal only renovates the jail’s “core” footprint isn’t true – the expansion of storage, security, and administrative capacity sets the stage for expansion of beds down the road. A dangerous path!
Jail expansion drives mass incarceration. Therefore, we call on our community leadership to move away from expansion and towards redirecting funds to community programs (not jail-based programs) and practices that actually keep us safe, accountable, and healthy. Five years ago, when Harrisonburg and Rockingham entered the Service Agreement with MRRJ with $22.9 million, the jail population numbers skyrocketed. We would like for public officials to understand two important aspects. 1. When we fund and expand jails, we fund and expand systemic racism and other injustices. And 2. The more money we put into jails and prisons, the more people we incarcerate.
Keeping people in jail is inhumane and irresponsible in the first place. In the current system, the sheriffs, the Commonwealth Attorney, the judges, and the jail authority pass the burden to elected officials and ultimately to taxpayers, leaving behind an incredible damage to our social fabric. Instead of expanding a system that harms our communities, we should invest in community-based solutions that promote accountability, healing, and safety.
What can we do?
We have a moral responsibility to continue uplifting the voices of the people affected by mass incarceration and those currently detained at MRRJ. If you live in Harrisonburg or Waynesboro, call and email your City Council members and demand that they limit jail renovation plans and funding to existing facility buildings only, without adding square footage. We also demand more transparency in this process.
- Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Chapter of Virginia Organizing
- Waynesboro Chapter of Virginia Organizing
- Friends United for Equity & Grassroots Organizing (FUEGO)
- Harrisonburg-Rockingham NAACP Chapter
- Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN)
Organizations and community groups are invited to endorse this statement by clicking HERE.