The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) received a briefing from its staff on September 16 on the state’s oversight of local and regional jails. JLARC staff took up this issue in the context of a broader review of the responsibilities of the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG); that study directive asked staff to evaluate OSIG’s role and authority in inspecting jails and investigating incidents within jails. JLARC staff recommended against transferring authority for jail inspections and death reviews to OSIG, but offered some suggestions on how the current oversight conducted by the Department of Corrections and the Board of Corrections could be improved. VACo had been interviewed by JLARC staff during the study process and advised against establishing parallel inspection processes.
JLARC’s report notes the challenges inherent in operating local and regional jails, pointing out that the average length of stay of a jail inmate in Virginia is 17 days, while state prison inmates stay an average of six years. Individuals incarcerated in jails often have serious medical conditions, with an estimated 20 percent of jail inmates known or suspected to have a mental illness in June 2018. The report also notes that in 2018, one quarter of all inmates in local and regional jails were state-responsible inmates.
The Board of Corrections (BOC) establishes standards for construction and operation of jails, and the Department of Corrections (DOC) inspects jails for compliance with these standards on behalf of the Board (one of JLARC’s recommendations is that the name of the Board of Corrections should be changed to avoid confusion with the Department, which operates state prisons in addition to inspecting jails). The BOC was tasked in 2017 with reviewing all deaths of inmates in local and regional jails and the legislature provided two staff positions to carry out this responsibility. JLARC recommended consolidating the DOC inspection staff with the BOC death review staff and placing both functions under the BOC; this proposed structure, in JLARC’s view, would encourage the interpretation of standards in a consistent manner in both types of reviews and enable problems found during death reviews to be considered when standards are reviewed, rather than jail inspections and death reviews being conducted in isolation from each other.
Among JLARC’s other recommendations were the following proposals:
- Require annual reporting to the BOC on the results of jail inspection reports so that trends could be identified and addressed through training or changes in standards.
- Require the BOC to produce an annual report on the results of death reviews.
- Enhance BOC staff training on medical issues that are relevant to deaths in jails.
- Fund a director of jail oversight, who would report to the BOC.
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle