By Associated Press - Sunday, March 14, 2021

PORTSMOUTH, Va (AP) - Two Virginia sheriffs plan to pull their inmates out of a troubled regional jail, citing inadequate staffing levels and the recent loss of its accreditation.

The Virginian-Pilot reports that the decision by sheriffs in Norfolk and Chesapeake will leave the Hampton Roads Regional Jail without inmates from three of the five cities that pay to house people there.

Hampton Roads cities created the regional jail in the 1990s, pooling resources to better care for sick inmates.

But since the 2015 death of Jamycheal Mitchell, who spent the last weeks of his life with a severely swollen leg in a cell covered in his own feces and urine, the jail has been on a downward spiral despite reform efforts by jail management, state legislators and the U.S. Justice Department.

The American Correctional Association recently revoked its accreditation of the jail, citing “continuous deaths” and a U.S. Department of Justice consent decree among its reasons.

Since 2008, at least 53 people have died in the jail, more than any other jail in the state. It has over 100 vacant jail officer positions, leaving the jail without more than a third of its guards.

Norfolk Sheriff Joe Baron said he and Chesapeake Sheriff Jim O’Sullivan spoke repeatedly before coming to the decision to pull their inmates from the jail.

“It’s a response to what I would consider inadequate staffing levels, the recent loss of (a national organization’s) accreditation, continued noncompliance with the Department of Justice consent decree and no clear plan, either budgetary or otherwise,” Baron said.

A 2018 report found conditions at the jail violated the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Under the consent decree, the jail is required to make changes, including hiring more medical, mental health care and security staff and reducing its use of solitary confinement for inmates with serious mental illness. But there were twice as many inmates with mental illness in solitary confinement late last year than when the DOJ conducted its 2018 investigation, a court-appointed monitor wrote in his initial report.

O’Sullivan said he plans to attend a board meeting Wednesday, but if there isn’t an “immediate change” in sight, he’s prepared to remove all of his inmates over the next 60 days. Baron said he also planned to remove all of his inmates in the next two months.

Portsmouth Sheriff Michael Moore hasn’t sent any inmates to the jail since early 2019, citing the DOJ report.

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