MRRJ Expansion Plans Put on Hold
On Tuesday, April 6, the MRRJ jail authority put jail expansion plans on hold for the upcoming fiscal year. The decision comes after Harrisonburg and Waynesboro City Councils expressed opposition to the expansion, which rest two of the four votes necessary for the jail authority to move forward with expansion recommendations. The move will save the five jurisdictions that own MRRJ (Harrisonburg, Rockingham, Staunton, Augusta, and Waynesboro) $39.5 millions of upfront money, and $70 millions over the life span of the loan. This decision also forces the jurisdictions and criminal justice entities to consider reducing incarceration levels instead.
A lot of effort went into opposing the jail expansion plan. Groups across the region signed petitions, made phone calls, sent emails, wrote letters, donated money, organized forums and rallies, conducted research, put up yard signs, attended numerous meetings, and met weekly to increase regional collaboration and coordination efforts.
The message was clear: 1) Stop jail expansion; because if they build it, they will fill it. 2) Reduce incarceration by changing policies, practices, and procedures. And 3) Fund community-based programs, such as affordable housing, education, employment, mental health and substance abuse treatment, to name a few. Each of these points deserves further elaboration and will be part of a journey to continue to educate the general public and elected officials.
Families impacted by incarceration spoke up. They were the ones putting a human face to the tragedies and traumas that incarceration -and an overall tendency in the criminal justice system to rely on jails- brought to their lives. Many family members, and formerly incarcerated individuals, denounced dire medical conditions at MRRJ. FUEGO stands in solidarity with these families and invites community groups, and the MRRJ jail authority, to take a deep look into medical treatment and protocols at this facility.
FUEGO is proud to have joined coalition efforts with so many groups and we look forward to continuing working together. We can proudly and confidently say that we have been successful at stopping jail expansion efforts, for now, but continue to be vigilant because proponents of jail expansion have not transformed their vision yet, and they still hold significant power to bring back expansion plans to the table. The most arduous work is ahead of us, which is to actually reduce incarceration numbers to the point where jail expansion is no longer needed, never considered again, and where institutions of the criminal justice system have a clear and strong commitment to abolish mass incarceration.