Riverside Regional Jail will operate with a $2.4 million budget deficit in the coming fiscal year, due largely to a substantial projected drop in the average number of inmates the facility will house and climbing pharmaceutical services.

Riverside receives nearly half its funding, or about $20 million, from the revenue provided by the seven localities in central Virginia that use the jail.

Chesterfield County supplies nearly half of the inmates, and because that number is projected to drop by 34 percent, the county’s share of the budget will fall from $11.9 million in the current fiscal year to a projected $8.4 million in fiscal 2020.

Chesterfield’s sheriff, Karl Leonard, attributed the county’s drop in part to rehabilitative programs his department has created for offenders with substance abuse problems and more inmates being diverted by county judges into diversion programs rather than sending them to jail. In addition to inmates sent to Riverside, Chesterfield runs a separate county jail that houses roughly 300 inmates.

“Our rehabilitative measures are having an effect,” Leonard said. “We’re seeing less repeat offenders and our overall numbers are going down.”

The jail’s 14-member governing body last week passed a $42.6 million operating budget — with two dissenting votes — that includes a projected deficit of $2,463,450. The board voted to fill the gap with “rainy day” reserves.

The current budget also will end in the red and need a projected $2.2 million to balance before the fiscal year ends June 30. The board is expected to transfer reserve funds in a vote later this month.

Nearly half the jail’s revenue comes from money paid by member jurisdictions to house their inmates there, and that sum is projected to decline 8 percent, or $1.7 million, in fiscal year 2020-21. The jail, in Prince George County, is one of the largest in central Virginia and serves Petersburg, Hopewell, Colonial Heights and the counties of Chesterfield, Charles City, Surry and Prince George.

The number of federal inmates the jail houses also is projected to drop, reducing that revenue stream by nearly a half-million dollars.

The deficit has forced the jail authority to raise the daily rate it charges localities for each inmate it houses from $40 to $43, but budget officials said that rate should realistically be set at $46 to $49. “We couldn’t make the full jump ... in one year. It just would cause too much fiscal stress on our member jurisdictions,” said the board’s finance committee chairwoman, Sheila Minor.

Sheriff Leonard and Chesterfield Finance Director Allan Carmody voted no on the budget and were the only board members to raise concerns about the deficit.

“I voted against it because I don’t believe in passing a budget that’s not funded with revenues,” Leonard said after the meeting.

Carmody said Monday: “I believe in the philosophy that the operations should not rely on the use of fund balance [rainy day reserves], particularly at the time of adopting a budget — and without some [discussion of] what would be the plan going forward.”

Minor, who also serves as finance director for Colonial Heights, said she believes authority members were “pretty well informed and we had all of the debates [about the budget] up until that point [last week] where everybody knew what we were voting on.”

The deficit will result in 30 jail positions not being filled, reducing full-time staff from 395 to 365 employees.

“It’s very concerning if we begin the year short-staffed,” Colonial Heights Sheriff Todd Wilson, the authority’s chairman, told the board last week.

The cost of the jail’s contracted medical services will drop from $5.8 million to $5.6 million, but the new contract doesn’t cover pharmaceutical services and supplies, Minor said. The board has budgeted $1 million for pharmacy expenses in fiscal 2020, she said.

The average daily population at the jail is expected to drop from 1,443 inmates in the current fiscal year to 1,301 inmates in fiscal 2020, or about 10 percent.

“Our populations have been fairly steady over the last several years so this has been kind of a sudden and unanticipated change,” Minor said of the drop.

The jail’s revenue is dependent to a large extent on the number of inmates Chesterfield sends there, and that number has been trending downward since fiscal 2014. The number has fallen from a high of 796 in fiscal 2014 to 659 in fiscal 2019. It rose once during that period, in fiscal 2017, to 767, according to Chesterfield Sheriff’s Office data. The number is projected to fall to 535 in fiscal 2020.

The number of inmates that Colonial Heights and Hopewell will send to Riverside also is projected to drop, but only slightly, while Petersburg, Prince George and Surry are expected to house more prisoners there in the coming fiscal year.

The authority’s meeting last week was the first since a nine-member Virginia Board of Corrections panel queried Riverside’s new interim superintendent, Karen Craig, in January about the board’s investigation of two inmate deaths at the facility in 2017. That same week, a Chesterfield judge convicted the jail’s recently retired superintendent and a member of his command staff of contempt of court for failing to obey the judge’s order to transfer a severely mentally ill inmate to Central State Hospital.

The corrections panel found that jail staff members failed to keep close enough watch on an inmate who committed suicide in his cell and that an officer assigned to make mandatory twice-per-hour checks on him had falsified entries in a jail logbook to reflect that the rounds were completed in a timely manner. In the other death, the investigator found that Riverside did not have proper emergency supplies on hand that could have been used to revive the inmate.

The two deaths were among six at Riverside in the past two years and 22 since 2011.

During last week’s meeting, the authority did not ask any questions or raise any concerns about the Board of Corrections’ findings or the misdemeanor convictions of former Superintendent Jeffery Newton and Maj. Douglas Upshaw, the jail’s director of operations. Judge Lynn Brice admonished both officials for their “dereliction of duty” to treat inmate Brandi Leah Gonzales “with respect” and fined both men $100.

Craig told the Board of Corrections in January that Riverside had increased its mental health staff in response to the 2017 deaths, and new procedures were established to allow for closer supervision of whether officers are making required rounds to check on inmates, by reviewing surveillance footage more closely.

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