State Jails Board creates improvement plan for City Jail

Investigation cites 6 deaths, inconsistent inspections and other unmet standards

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 12/14/2023, 6 p.m.
Only a small staff of deputies is working in the Richmond City Justice Center on any given day, the Free …
Richmond Justice Center

Only a small staff of deputies is working in the Richmond City Justice Center on any given day, the Free Press is being told, as the number of sworn officers under the command of Sheriff Antionette V. Irving continues to fall.

Sheriff Irving

Sheriff Irving

Richmond Police officers wait two to three hours to have the jail take custody of a prisoner because the lockup section is understaffed, while only two to three deputies may be on each floor of the jail during a shift, according to information the Free Press was provided by people, only on condition of anonymity.

Earlier this month, Sheriff Irving reported 191 vacancies in deputy positions, or 49.4% of the 386 deputies.

That’s up from 170 vacancies a year ago.

That means, say Free Press sources, the sheriff struggles to have enough deputies at the jail and to handle other duties, which include providing security at city courthouses, handling the eviction process and delivering civil papers.

“Don’t use my name,” said one deputy, who went on to tell the Free Press that there was no way for her and others on duty to do the required inspection rounds every half hour and monitor the cells.

“There is just too much going on,” she said. “And we just have too few people to handle the situations we face and do the rounds.”

The failure of timely inspections is the key reason that the Virginia Board of Local and Regional Jails has created a two-year improvement plan for Sheriff Irving’s operation.

The board created the improvement plan after being called on to investigate six deaths at the jail between March 2022 and October 2023, during the course of which their staff found that minimum standards were not being met.

According to the board’s finding, the Richmond jail did not provide 24-hour medical care and most notably failed to conduct two inspections an hour, despite Sheriff Irving’s public statements that inspections were being conducted.

As part of bringing the jail into compliance, the board directed Sheriff Irving to ensure the jail’s pharmacy was operating properly and to begin auditing deputy logbooks of their activity while on duty, after finding entries did not match what the cameras showed.

In response to a Free Press query, Major Stacey Bagby, the jail’s administrator, confirmed that during the state board’s investigation of the deaths, “inconsistencies were discovered when some deputies were in a pod and when their security rounds were recorded.”

“We determined that additional training on the accuracy of record-keeping and the consequences for inaccuracies would reduce any future inconsistencies,” Major Bagby stated.

“In addition to this training,” she noted that when she and the sheriff or other officers “discover records on security rounds are inaccurate, we mete out necessary discipline based on our progressive disciplinary process.

“We are also in the process of installing an electronic system that will allow deputies to record their security rounds electronically and in real time to further ensure accurate record-keeping,” she concluded.

In another statement, Sheriff Irving indicated that at least 30 deputies have been written up for not conducting the inspections, even reducing pay for some.

Her disciplinary methods have infuriated some hires. The Free Press was told that the sheriff boosted her staff by hiring guards who had worked for the state Department of Corrections, only to see a portion return to the state agency after feeling the effects of Sheriff Irving’s management style.

“She’s losing people faster than she can hire replacements,” one source said.

“While overtime pay has soared for those who remain, there is only so many hours you can work double shifts before you start to burn out.”

Sheriff Irving is in her second term and will face re-election in 2025 if she seeks another term.

Since taking over as sheriff in 2018, she had received reports from the state board stating the Justice Center met minimum standards. But as of July, for the first time, the board has determined that is not true.