To the editor:
Courts, before and after case disposition, determine which persons are confined, and for how long, at Alexandria’s jail, the Truesdale Adult Detention Center. The same applies to the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center, which the city funds in part and appoints two of its five commissioners.
While the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office provides courthouse security and bailiffs for all proceedings, it has no role in sentencing. ASO’s responsibility is the security and safety of the inmates, its sworn and non-sworn staff, other jail workers and inmates’ visitors. While confined, inmates can deal with personal issues like substance abuse and anger, and improve their prospects for successfully reintegrating into the community – provided the length of their sentence allows for participation in a program and their frame of mind allows them to commit to a program’s goals.
The sworn deputies enable a small cadre of non-sworn staff, assisted by volunteers, to carry out programs. Local communities of faith often provide volunteers for programs like GED and ESL classes. NOVA Community College’s Alexandria campus has even offered a few credit courses.
Other inmates focus on learning employment skills, such as earning a ServSafe food-and-beverage certificate for hospitality jobs. One member of the Sheriff’s Correctional Services Advisory Board has a computer business and started a course teaching inmates about computers and software.
There are programs that focus on life skills, such as Decision Points, a cognitive behavior intervention program. Others address matters as basic as presenting oneself at job interviews.
Inmates can ask to join the Sober Living Unit, which has separate male and female housing units and is highly structured with mental health therapists. Narcotics & Alcoholics Anonymous focuses on 12 steps to help those who struggle with substance abuse. HeardNOVA.org offers a writing program, complementing the facility’s library.
The Correctional Services Advisory Board was started by late Sheriff James Dunning, invigorated by now-retired Sheriff Dana Lawhorne and continued by new Sheriff Sean Casey. CSAB works with the program staff to offer advice and support.
Jail time is always punishment, but it can also be a time for self-reflection and improvement.
-Michael Strutzel, CSAB member