- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2008

RICHMOND | Virginia Beach Sheriff Paul Lanteigne sued the state Tuesday for renting its prison space for out-of-state inmates while leaving Virginia prisoners in his local jail.

Virginia hopes to offset a $38.4 million budget shortfall over the next two years by leasing 1,000 prison beds for out-of-state inmates. Virginia gets about $75 a day for each inmate it accepts from another state, while it pays local and regional jails $14 a day to house Virginia inmates.

As of Saturday, 75 local and regional jails across the state housed about 1,800 state inmates.

“I just think it’s kind of ludicrous for the state to be bringing in inmates from other states when they’re not doing what they’re responsible to do in the state of Virginia,” Sheriff Lanteigne said.

State law requires inmates sentenced to more than one year be transferred to state prisons within 60 days. Sheriff Lanteigne’s lawsuit, filed in Virginia Beach Circuit Court, asks that the state Department of Corrections be required to remove those inmates from the Virginia Beach City Jail.

Sheriff Lanteigne and other local officials argue the $14 they receive to house state inmates isn’t enough to cover their costs, which range from $31 to $135 per day, according to the latest jail-cost report by the Virginia Compensation Board.

On Tuesday, there were 67 state inmates in Sheriff Lanteigne’s jail, where he said it costs about $60 per day to house each of them.

“While it may be a windfall for the state, it is a tremendous detriment to the city of Virginia Beach,” Sheriff Lanteigne said.

Fairfax County officials also are considering legal action. At the county’s Board of Supervisors meeting Monday, officials asked the county attorney to look into whether Fairfax County could join Sheriff Lanteigne’s lawsuit or possibly file its own.

The board will take up the issue June 30.

Fairfax County has about 100 state inmates in its jail, at a cost of about $125 per day each, Supervisor Michael Frey said.

While the county has complained about holding state inmates before, Mr. Frey said learning that Virginia would sell its beds to other states was the last straw.

“That’s when I hit the roof,” he said Tuesday. “That’s just unconscionable.”

There are 296 Wyoming inmates in two Virginia prisons under an $18.5 million contract that runs through June 20, 2010, said Larry Traylor, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections.

Wyoming is the first out-of-state contract under Virginia’s new strategy.

The state also has older, much smaller contracts with the Virgin Islands to house 28 inmates and with Maryland for 20 prisoners, but those are not associated with the current cost-saving measure, Mr. Traylor said.

Without the revenue produced by out-of-state contracts, Mr. Traylor said the department might need to close facilities, which would mean fewer beds for inmates and jobs lost. He said the department viewed renting out beds as a temporary solution, and that it would move state inmates to prisons when it could.

“As the economy brightens, we will move away from this strategy and, hopefully, return to normal operations,” he said.

Neither Mr. Traylor nor the Attorney General’s Office, which represents the state in lawsuits, could comment on pending litigation.

The Virginia Sheriff’s Association has not taken a position, Executive Director John Jones said.

In addition to the money jails receive to house state inmates, Virginia also helps pay for deputy and sheriff salaries, among other costs. In fiscal 2006, the state accounted for about 46 percent of the funding for Virginia’s jails, according to the compensation board’s report.

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