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New Boss at Embattled Jail Asks for More Time Before Review

Riverside Regional Jail Facade
Riverside Regional Jail has found itself in hot water after several recent incidents. New Superintendent Larry Leabough has pledged to turn the facility around. (Photo: Steve Helber/AP)

The newest superintendent of the Riverside Regional Jail says he’s turning the facility around after years of problems. In 2019, the Virginia Department of Corrections put the prison on a three year probation following two suicides in 2017. This past June, 35 positive cases of COVID-19 were reported at the jail. 

On Wednesday, Larry Leabough appeared before the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors to introduce himself and answer questions about the facility. He’s the sixth superintendent in three years, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The Goochland native has nearly 32 years of experience with the Virginia Department of Corrections. He retired from the corrections department in 2013, then began work with the Richmond Department of Justice Services, where he served as senior agency analyst until leaving in mid-December.

One of the first questions the board asked Leabough  was if Riverside was ready for a county audit to determine how much progress he’d made in turning the facility around.

“Allow me to get in there to do the things that I think the jail needs to be successful and then come in and assess me after I’ve had an opportunity. But if you don’t give me an opportunity, then why hire me,” Leabough said. 

Leabough told the five member board that it is too early in his tenure for an audit.

“Allow me to figure out what needs to be done. Allow me to set a plan in place to make that jail as respected as any jail in the state of Virginia or the country,” he said.

Leabough told the board he has a 30-year background in audits, and is running his own assessment with the help of another new hire, an auditor from Richmond City Jail. He said they’ll be ready for a county audit in six to twelve months. 

Leabough said he plans to request a Department of Corrections assessment in January 2021 in hopes of getting the jail off probation and reaccredited. “My plan is to get us off probation by March,” he said.

Part of the push for an audit is because of widespread COVID-19 cases earlier this year. Leabough said he had the virus under control, pointing to a spike in August that was resolved after he “shut down the jail” for 15 days.

Under his watch, Leabough said behavioral incidents have gone down “75 percent.” He also said he’s made progress on substance abuse and mental health. He said that by “just moving money around,” he’d introduced programs that reduced substance abuse by at least 125 percent at no cost.

The biggest challenge he’s facing is hiring staff and paying them more, he said, and all in the middle of a pandemic. 

“COVID-19 changed everything. Everything that you do, you must change it. Our staffing--people are making more money on unemployment than they’re making working in jails,” Leabough said.

He said higher salaries would help with hiring and retention.

“My people start off about $33,000 a year. I believe Chesterfield starts at right around $40,000. Henrico starts at around 40,” Leabough said.

Another challenge: A federal prison next door that hires his best people. “The federal prison encourages people to come work with us for 2 years, and then they’ll give them a $10,000 raise to come next door.”

 

Ian M. Stewart previously was the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.
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