As the lengthy process of renovating the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail begins, members of the jail authority’s board on Thursday discussed potential complications associated with expanding the facility.
The virtual meeting was the board’s first since May and marked one of the first steps for drafting planned renovations for the jail, intended to fix various issues and likely to expand the capacity of the facility.
ACRJ has been renovated and expanded a few times since 1975, with the most recent expansion increasing the jail to 329 beds. The jail holds inmates from Charlottesville and the counties of Albemarle and Nelson.
The renovations are being planned by Moseley Architects, which has handled a slew of other similar jail projects throughout the commonwealth. The work is expected to be completed by fall 2025.
Among the chief concerns discussed Thursday was the potential need to expand the bed capacity at ACRJ and the likelihood of community pushback.
Much of the potential capacity expansion will be guided by a needs assessment, which will examine anticipated growth within the three localities, crime trends, criminal justice reforms and other factors to forecast the future number of inmates. That assessment has not yet been conducted and is thus not currently part of the renovation plans.
However, despite various changes in how criminal prosecutions are handled, the growth of diversionary dockets and the use of home-electronic incarceration, ACRJ Superintendent Martin Kumer told the board that the jail continues to exceed its capacity.
“Even though we have a historically low population today — more so than I’ve seen in the 23 years I’ve been here — we are still above our rated capacity, even with all the work the community has done,” Kumer said. “I think it’d be unethical and immoral not to have a bed available in a decent environment if someone shows up at that door.”
According to Tony Bell, Moseley Architect’s managing principal, the project planning study may end up being split into two parts. The first part could address the immediate needs of the jail — such as replacing the HVAC system, toilets and showers — while part two could focus on the longer-range need for more beds.
“Again, we have not determined that [there is a need for more beds], and if the authority says we want a zero-increase study, obviously, that is a possibility, as well,” Bell said. “The only project that we’re doing short-term or long-term is improvements to the existing jail, i.e. no increase in rated capacity.”
The planning process is lengthy by design and includes steps for community input, board amendments and improvements and also requires the approval of various state organizations, including the Blue Ridge Jail Authority and the Virginia General Assembly.
The authority board and Moseley Architects have estimated the planning study, needs study and the outreach stakeholder sessions will cost about $185,000 and will lead to a draft of a planning study by the end of the year.
Jay James, a citizen member and vice chair of the board, said they would likely be dealing with a community that does not want to see an increase in bed capacity but a needs assessment that shows the opposite.
“Our population is probably going to increase just per capita over the next few years as a natural progression, so how do we manage that piece of it?” James said. “That might mean that the community doesn’t want you to increase from 320 beds, but there’s a really good chance this needs assessment is going to suggest that that is necessary.”
Bell cautioned that not heeding the potential forecasted growth in the number of inmates could lead to people being incarcerated at facilities outside of the area. However, Bell said Moseley Architects will meet whatever needs the board determines, be it an increase in beds or just renovations to the existing facilities.
Diantha McKeel, an Albemarle County supervisor and chair of the board, said the jail has no control over who is sent to ACRJ and that community members should not have to travel long distances to visit their incarcerated loved ones.
“I’m going to take the bully pulpit for a minute and tell you that this is one person who will not support the concept of sending our community members outside of our area to other jails,” McKeel said. “I watched that happen with our children and people were having to drive four to five hours to see their children. I will not support that.”
In response to the need to develop a planning study by the end of the year, the board agreed to meet more frequently to discuss the needs assessment and begin community outreach. The authority board will meet again at 12:30 p.m. July 22.