Marshals pull prisoners, funding from jail

Federal inmates from Lunenburg County won’t be housed in Prince Edward County anymore, at least not for a while. There are still questions unanswered as to how two men escaped from Piedmont Regional Jail on Sunday, April 30. At least until the investigation is complete, the jail will have significantly fewer prisoners.

“The U.S. Marshals Service is temporarily reducing its federal prisoner population at the Piedmont Regional Jail following the escape of two federal prisoners,” the Marshals said in a statement provided to the Dispatch.

The group said this isn’t a permanent decision, but also gave no timetable for when it would go back to normal.

“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.”

Once that’s done, the Marshals Service said, the two groups can look at returning prisoners to the facility.

“In the interim, an active intergovernmental agreement remains in place between the facility and the Marshals Service,” the Marshals said in their statement.

IMPACT OF THE DECISION

Jail officials say they’re aware of the decision and are making plans on how to handle it.

“Piedmont Regional Jail has been notified by the U.S. Marshal Service that they intend to remove federal inmates from the facility while we complete our internal investigation.” That was the statement provided to The Dispatch from the Piedmont Regional Jail Authority on Wednesday, May 10.

Federal inmates add up to 42% of the jail’s prisoner population, according to Jail Authority Vice Chair Doug Stanley. Now why does this matter? The biggest reason involves dollars. As we mentioned before, the jail receives funding for each federal prisoner that they house. When you take that money away, it translates into budget cuts. And that’s the situation the jail authority is staring at.

“Based on the anticipated reduction, the PRJ Board is looking to make adjustments to the FY ‘24 budget to include the anticipated reduction in expenditures and revenues,” the board statement said.

Translated, losing 40% of the prison population equals an estimated $2.7 million hit in funding. Now to be clear, this isn’t a guaranteed permanent loss. As the Marshals said, the contract itself has not been canceled. But even so, the immediate funding problems needed to be addressed and that’s what the authority is doing.

As a result, the jail staff will possibly see some changes in the next few months. Currently on the table to be discussed at a meeting on Wednesday, May 17, there’s a 20% budget cut proposal.

The majority of it would be cutting back on supplies, since there will be fewer inmates.

“We made some adjustments to our budget on items like food and water, because we know we’re not going to cook for as many people,” Stanley said. “By doing reductions, we can get the budget down to where we were last month.”

HOW DID IT HAPPEN?

But right now, the biggest question is how did the escape happen. And until that’s solved, it doesn’t look like any federal inmates will be returning. That’s what the jail’s internal investigation is focused on. 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.

It’s still unknown how the inmates escaped from their cells in the first place, then gaining access to and climbing over the fence. More than that, how did the two men manage to follow the same path out of the jail, despite working on it hours apart.

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