More people are put behind bars in Henrico County than in any other locality in the region, and county officials are trying to figure out why as jails exceed capacity.
Last week a panel of health professionals and county officials convened to address overcrowded jails met to evaluate building a new addiction recovery center that could relieve pressure on the system. But after three meetings, Tyrone Nelson, co-chairman of the panel and chairman of the Board of Supervisors, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch he still had not “heard why” Henrico’s jails are overcrowding as inmate populations elsewhere in the state decline.
Supervisor Tommy Branin, Nelson’s co-chair on the task force, said there had been little discussion about how to answer the jail overcrowding question. Instead, the first three meetings have focused on educating members about addiction, the criminal justice system and public addiction treatment services.
The committee has until November to deliver a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors on how a new addiction center could functionally serve as an alternative to incarceration.
“I’m not hearing what we need yet,” Branin said.
As leaders search for answers, more and more people are getting locked up.
The number of inmates in Henrico’s two jails has grown by over 20% in the past three years, from 1,150 people per day to 1,450 people. The sheriff’s office estimates the average daily population will be 1,500 this year.
In contrast, the average daily population of jails in Richmond and Prince George County have fallen by about 30% and 20%, respectively, since 2017. The Chesterfield County jail average daily population has held steady at around 300 inmates over the same period.
Some Henrico County officials say drug addiction is the heart of the problem, the RTD reports. In a 2017 survey of Henrico inmates, nine out of ten said drug use helped land them behind bars.