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Community organizations lead effort against Middle River Regional Jail expansion

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The root of opposition to the proposed expansion of the Middle River Regional Jail: a recent FOIA request filed by Communities Against Middle River Jail Expansion found that 76 percent of the inmates there on March 1 were being held for drug charges or other nonviolent offenses.

Do we really need a bigger jail to lock more people up for issues that are dealt with better using a social services-based approach?

“Investing in our community means equitable access to housing, education and employment,” said Corey Chandler, a member of Virginia Organizing and a former inmate.

“Investing in our communities means empowering our neighbors to be their best selves. Investing in our community is not creating more bed space in an already overcrowded jail whose only priority is to fill those beds,” Chandler said.

Twenty-three organizations in Staunton, Augusta County, Waynesboro, Harrisonburg and Rockingham County formally stated their opposition to the proposed jail expansion on Friday.

The coalition was facilitated by the grassroots group Communities Against Middle River Jail Expansion.

Top concerns include the number of inmates at Middle River who have not yet gone to trial, rates of recidivism, mental illness, and substance use disorder among jail inmates, and the disproportionate incarceration of Black people.

“Show me your checkbook, and I will tell you your values. We need to rebalance our investments,” said Jayne Docherty, executive director of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University.

“We need to say no to expanding the jail. We need to say yes to investing in the well-being of our neighbors and family members. We need to divert funding to mental health services, crime prevention programs, and substance abuse treatment options,” Docherty said.

“There are many, many people in MRRJ that do not belong there. People that are our friends, family members, and neighbors who need help – not punishment,” said Anna Cubbage, Rockingham County resident and former inmate. “Our community does not need a bigger jail to further mistreat and unsafely house more people. Nobody should be punished for being mentally ill, having a substance abuse disorder, or for being poor.”

augusta free press
augusta free press