Officials discuss strategies, new training to investigate inmate deaths

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – More than 50 people from across Virginia were in Newport News on Monday discussing inmate investigations.

While polices and procedures are already in place, officials say there is always room for improvement.

Transparency was one of the key words that came out of this morning’s training at the Hampton Roads Criminal Justice Training Academy. Officials hope that’s not only with each other, but with the public.

“Jails have always had a closed door mentality that people always stay out,” said Hampton Roads Regional Jail Superintendent Ronaldo Myers. “A lot of people don’t care what happens in any jail unless it happens to a loved one.  So we have to open the door.”

Myers was part of a panel at the training. He and other leaders spoke about the challenges of investigating and preventing inmate deaths.

Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran said, “There have been tragedies in the Commonwealth over our administration and before that. We need to get to the bottom of it to identify the causes, to eradicate the problem. We don’t want someone dying in our jails.”

Cases that involve mental illnesses are especially difficult. That’s one reason Moran and Governor Terry McAuliffe implemented mental health pilot programs in six facilities across the Commonwealth.

“If, at the end of the day, we can identify best practices, yes they don’t have sufficient resources, then we need to go to the legislature and governor and make sure those resources are available,” said Moran.

New legislation from the Board of Corrections that sets the standards for death investigations will also soon be implemented.

While steps have been made to stop inmate deaths, Newport News Sheriff Gabe Morgan says there’s still a lot that needs to be done — because even if every policy is followed, a death is a death.

Morgan said, “When you take them down, and try to revive them, you’re giving everything at that point because you don’t want that person to die.  When its over with and you’re sitting and looking at that cold body, that’s a human being.”