Jail staff work to avoid budget cuts

Published 8:30 am Thursday, May 25, 2023

Yes, the U.S. Marshals Service recently decided to pull all federal inmates out of Piedmont Regional Jail. And yes, that decision eliminates 42% of the jail’s population. Since the jail receives funding for each federal prisoner that they house, that also translates into a loss of $2.7 million from the budget. But jail officials say that doesn’t mean the budget has to shrink or positions will be eliminated. They see another option.

“It may be that we can pick up some more revenue from (other jails),” said Piedmont Superintendent Jerry Townsend. He pointed to places like Culpepper, which faces an overcrowding problem. Townsend said over the next month, jail officials will be reaching out to other overcrowded operations, to see if they can take in some of these prisoners.

As a result of that plan, the Piedmont Regional Jail Authority decided to hold off on making any budget cuts right now. During their meeting on Wednesday, May 17, the group tabled a proposal for 20% cuts, to balance things out. That proposal included scaling back on things like food purchases, since they have fewer prisoners now.

“The board decided to go back and retool (the budget), with the hope at the June meeting, we should have something to adopt,” Townsend said.

In addition to food costs, there were still questions as to how much funding was needed for both medical and dental services.

INVESTIGATION CONTINUES

Also, Townsend said, the jail’s internal investigation into what led to the situation on April 30 should be finished by the June meeting. At different times on April 30, two inmates managed to get out of their cells, gain access to and climb over the

facility’s fence, escaping for a few days. One of the men, Alder Marin-Sotelo, was caught across the border, arrested by Mexican authorities in the state of Guerrero on May 4. His sister, Adriana Marin-Sotelo, also faces charges now, accused of conspiring to help in his escape attempt. The second inmate, Bruce Callahan, was captured shortly after 5:30 a.m. Monday, May 8, when he walked onto the campus of Longwood University and pulled a fire alarm.

To be clear, the two men did not escape the jail together. While Alder escaped just after 1:40 a.m., Callahan left the jail right after 11 p.m. that night.

Townsend said the investigation is ongoing, but expects it will be finished in time to present findings to the Jail Authority board on Wednesday, June 21. That’s also when any changes in staff could take place, Townsend added.

WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR

To be clear, the Marshals haven’t fully severed their contract with Piedmont Regional Jail. But in a statement to The Dispatch, officials said until the security situation is addressed, they wouldn’t be bringing federal prisoners back.

“The U.S. Marshals Service is dedicated to providing safe, secure, and humane conditions of confinement for federal prisoners,” the statement said, “and will maintain its partnership with the Piedmont Regional Jail while the facility works to improve security measures at the facility.”

Now in terms of how it happened, that’s what the internal investigation is looking at. Earlier this month, the jail authority put out a statement saying the escape was not due to a malfunction, as reported by some other media. “Initial findings suggest that the inmates were able to breach an exterior door at the facility,” the PRJ statement said. “While it is true that the Piedmont Regional Jail Authority Board has discussed dock lock replacement in previous meetings, such discussions pertained to interior doors in a different housing pod from which the inmates escaped.”

That part can be backed up through the minutes of the Authority Board’s meetings. In the Dec. 7 meeting, the group started discussing replacement of “the locking mechanisms in M & B, C & D pods.” However, the Authority Board says in their statement the escaped inmates were not in any of those four pods. From December through March, those are the only pods mentioned, either for updates on how the work is going or discussing any malfunctions.