People reported fewer crimes overall in Harrisonburg over the last year. And fewer defendants stayed in jail as they awaited trial. At the same time, though, many of those trials have been delayed, forcing the courts to put in overtime in order to catch up on the backlog of cases. Harrisonburg and Rockingham County’s criminal justice system — like many facets of life — has operated a little differently since the pandemic began, in some cases prompting prosecutors and judges to adapt and make exceptions they wouldn’t normally do.
As Middle River Regional Jail and its inmates continue navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, some inmates and people formerly incarcerated in the jail are speaking out about what they call unsanitary conditions and inadequate health care.
Amid discussions of Middle River Regional Jail’s $40 million expansion proposal, Criminal Justice Planner Frank Sottaceti outlined to the city council on Tuesday how Harrisonburg’s share of inmates at the facility is less than half of Rockingham County’s.
More than a third of Middle River Regional Jail inmates and dozens of its employees — several hundred people total — have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past few weeks, forcing the jail to apply a tiered system to try to limit the spread in different sections.
The Rockingham-Harrisonburg Regional Jail so far hasn’t seen any COVID-19 cases among inmates or staff. But some are concerned about the degree of mask wearing.