Richmond’s Overcrowded Jail Inmates “Govern Themselves”


Sheriff’s deputy Anthony Washington scans the crowd of shouting inmates in Richmond City Jail’s F-2 wing, who are clustered by the front of a cage packed with 140 men, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch in another in a series of articles on jail conditions. On a summer night, Washington is one of three deputies patrolling three wings of cages where between 850 and 1,000 men spend 23 hours each day. The sections were meant to house about 450.

The deputies’ job is to make sure the inmates stay where they are and that they are as safe as they can be, locked in a “tier” with scores of men whose records are full of assault charges and smaller offenses of poor self-control. In Richmond’s aging, overcrowded jail, deputies try to keep a lid on cages where they can’t venture inside on their own, even with their cans of mace. As many as 150 men share three showers, two toilets, and a sink. “The inmates basically govern themselves,” Washington says. All he can do is take each evening as it comes, and keep his distance.


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