Housing out-of-county inmates has not been the revenue source Henry County officials had hoped it would be.
According to information provided by the Henry County Sheriff’s Office in its budget presentation for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, revenue generated by housing inmates from other localities at the county’s new Adult Detention Center “hasn’t met expectations to generate approximately $1 million.”
Capt. Wayne Davis of the Henry County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the facility failed to reach its revenue goal in its initial year. Changes in the number of and compensation for holding inmates offered by the state is one of the primary reasons he cited.
“That is a big contributing factor,” Davis said, adding that statewide changes could have also negatively impacted the willingness of other counties to pay the costs of holding their inmates in Henry County.
Henry County’s facility holds an average of 20 out-of-county inmates per day. This falls short of the estimated 75 per day originally planned for.
The facility began housing inmates on March 25, 2022.
“We’ve been inside the facility over a year now,” Davis said, adding that generating revenue via housing out-of-county inmates was baked into the facility since the planning stages. “In the planning and construction phase there were estimates made for our needs, Henry County’s long-term inmate population needs as well as the potential to house inmates from other jurisdictions to generate possible revenue.”
The 400-bed facility, which serves a daily average of 43 inmates, is one of a number of detention centers throughout the state that have agreements to hold inmates from other communities. The facility’s large size is designed to future-proof the facility and account for possible population growth, Davis said.
The new detention center replaced the decades-old Henry County Jail, which was outdated and lacked modern amenities like handicap accessibility, Davis said. He described the old facility as having reached a point where it could no longer serve the needs of the county.
Construction of the new detention center cost $73.3 million. Like the facility it is replacing, it serves as a correctional facility for both adult male and female inmates.
Since the early planning stages, officials had planned to use the facility to house non-Henry County and federal inmates. As at adult detention facilities in other parts of the state, revenue is generated and is largely based on how much a facility charges to house those inmates.
“When we house an inmate for another locality, they pay Henry County per day, per inmate,” Davis said. “Those are revenues that will come back to the Adult Detention Center.”
Prices vary and are often based on levels established by the state and federal government.
“Primarily you hold inmates from Virginia,” Davis said, adding that out-of-county inmates aren’t from beyond the state’s border.
The inmate population fluctuates daily, Davis said, adding that new out-of-state inmates don’t always replace those moved to other facilities. “They may leave, their sentence may be up.… There’s a host of reasons why the population would fluctuate from day to day.”
Out-of-county inmates come with a $35 per-day cost, paid by other counties. That amount is less than the $78 per day that it actually costs to house an inmate. According to Davis, the per-diem payments free up funds that would have otherwise been part of the per-day inmate holding cost.
“One of the reasons the [$78 cost] is so high is because of the staffing at the facility,” Davis said, explaining that the $35 charge frees up money they otherwise would have spent. “The $35 per-diem essentially covers clothing, meals, medical and things like that. It looks like the numbers are upside down, when in fact it still is profitable because we would be paying for that staffing to be there anyway.”
The daily per diem for federal inmates is higher, at $65 per inmate.
“To house federal inmates requires approval at the federal level,” Davis said, adding that Henry County recently received that approval. “That contract was signed early last month.”
Davis said that housing federal inmates alone has the potential to generate $500,000 per year.
“All they have to do is bring them to us and all the paperwork is in place to [house federal inmates],” Davis said.
Alexandria’s Adult Detention Center has parallels with Henry County’s new facility, according to Amy Bertsch, communications director for Alexandria’s sheriff’s office.
Alexandria’s detention center has benefitted from out-of-county inmates due to relationships it has built over the years. For new facilities, like the one in Henry County, this can prove difficult.
In Alexandria, housing federal inmates is a revenue source.
“We do have an agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service to house federal inmates and this is a significant part of our budget and our inmate population,” Bertsch said, adding that Alexandria’s Adult Detention Center gets $6.6 million a year to house 150 federal inmates.
Housing inmates destined for Virginia’s Department of Corrections is another factor at Henry County’s facility. When someone is convicted of a crime, a facility like Henry County’s Adult Detention Center holds the inmate until they are picked up by the Department of Corrections. In the interim, the state pays for local facilities to house their inmates.
This is one of the reasons why Davis believes the facility didn’t generate as much as the county had originally anticipated.
Last year, Gov. Glenn Youngkin agreed to increase the state’s per diem on holding inmates.
“Before the change it was $12,” Davis said. “Now it is $16.”
Davis speculates that this might have had an impact on the rate of inmates taken by the state.
“The Virginia Department of Corrections has taken well over 100 inmates from the Henry County Adult Detention Center in the past 14 months,” Davis said, describing a statewide cost-saving initiative in which the Virginia Department of Corrections keeps inmates in state facilities where it doesn’t have to pay a daily per diem.
Davis said the number of inmates sent to Henry County in 2022 was significantly lower than in previous years. In 2016-2021, the state took a yearly average of 18 inmates.
Davis said that the facility will continue holding out-of-county residents, though he acknowledges that it could be a number of years before the facility finally hits the $1 million mark.
“There are factors unforeseen,” Davis said. “It’s a state issue, not a Henry County issue.”