Two bills that would cap or eliminate certain fees charged to individuals incarcerated in local and regional jails and require the provision of telephone service at no charge were filed this session. HB 2039 (Shin) was heard in a subcommittee of the House Public Safety Committee on January 19 and tabled, but the subcommittee Chair will be sending a letter to the Compensation Board with a request to develop more detailed cost estimates for the replacement of fees with public funds. SB 889 (Morrissey) was heard in the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee the following day, and reported and referred to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee.
Similar bills were filed in 2022. Due to the complexity of the issues involved and the potential financial impact on jail operations, the legislation was converted to a study directive, with a workgroup charged with making recommendations regarding the reduction or elimination of certain fees. VACo was not an official participant in the workgroup but monitored its proceedings as an interested party. The workgroup failed to reach consensus or to develop detailed data on fee revenue or expenditures. With dissent from the workgroup members representing sheriffs and regional jails, the workgroup recommended reintroducing the 2022 legislation.
Discussion in both the House and Senate committees during the 2023 session has focused on the need to provide more state support to jails so that programming can be funded through public dollars rather than fee revenue. VACo spoke to this issue during the subcommittee’s consideration of HB 2039 and encouraged the compilation of better data so that a request for necessary state resources could be developed. During the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services meeting, members cited the proposed budget amendment to restore local-responsible per diem payments to pre-2011 levels, which is being carried by Senator Reeves, with Senator Stuart as a co-patron, at the request of VACo, VML, and partner organizations; Delegate Krizek is carrying the request in the House. Senators also cited SB 966 (Peake), which would provide compensation to local and regional jails for the actual costs of housing state-responsible inmates; VACo has historically supported this legislation. SB 966 was heard the following week in Rehabilitation and Social Services and has been reported and referred to Senate Finance and Appropriations. Additional helpful bills to provide resources for substance use disorder treatment in jails also are advancing; HB 1524 (Coyner) has been reported from House Public Safety to House Appropriations, and the companion bill, SB 820 (Favola), is on the Senate floor. VACo supports both measures.
VACo thanks members for their advocacy on jail funding and encourages continued discussion with legislators about the importance of this issue.
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle