Rally to call on local jurisdictions to vote no on Middle River Regional Jail expansion
The Harrisonburg-Rockingham County and Waynesboro chapters of Virginia Organizing will rally outside the Middle River Regional Jail on Monday to call for an end to practices that have resulted in overcrowding in the facility.
The event will take place on the eve of the Middle River Regional Jail Authority’s meeting on Tuesday, where a vote on the future of the proposed jail expansion is expected.
“In my short time (at MRRJ) I witnessed violations of human rights, deliberate indifference by staff towards inmates, and I saw numerous mentally ill members of our community struggle in concrete holding cells that were covered in urine and feces – sometimes not even their own as the cleaning of these cells between inmates is virtually non-existent.,” says Anna Cubbage, Rockingham County resident and person previously incarcerated at MRRJ. “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.”
In order for the measure to pass, four out of the five partner jurisdictions need to vote ‘yes.’ These include Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, Staunton, Augusta County, and Waynesboro.
Harrisonburg City Council members have already expressed unanimous opposition to the project, and at least three of five Waynesboro City Council members questioned the need for a jail expansion at their most recent business meeting.
“We don’t want to take their votes for granted, so we will be there on Monday night to keep raising public awareness of what the Jail Authority is attempting to do. At the same time, this rally isn’t just about saying ‘no’ to jail expansion. We also want to say ‘yes’ to a future that doesn’t rely on building cages to keep ourselves safe. Jails hurt communities. There are so many practices we can change, and new things we can start doing, to help our communities truly thrive. Those don’t involve over-policing and mass incarceration,” says Tiba Fatli, a member of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County chapter of Virginia Organizing.
Activists have pointed to large numbers of pre-trial inmates, high recidivism rates, the prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorders, and the disproportionate incarceration of Black and Brown people as indicators that there are deeper problems with the criminal justice system that will only be exacerbated by expanding the jail.