Circa the summer of 1988, the regional jail superintendents at the time decided to meet periodically to discuss common concerns and to determine how their jails could be enhanced. Those jails were the Middle Peninsula Regional Security Center (Supt. Dick West) in Saluda, the Albemarle-Charlottesville Joint Security Complex (Supt. Mike McMahan) in Charlottesville, the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center (Supt. Dick Kiekbush) in Manassas, the Rappahannock Security Center Regional Jail (Supt. Bob Mason) in Fredericksburg and the just opened-up Piedmont Regional Jail (Supt. Art Lane) in Farmville.
These informal meetings continued as other regional jails became operational, and Morty Leibowitz of the Rappahannock Security Center Regional Jail agreed to become President of the “group” in 1991. In 1992 Sterling Proffitt of the Central Virginia Regional Jail in Orange was the first elected President. Dr. Arthur L. Lane, Jr., Superintendent of the Piedmont Regional Jail, wrote a “Mission Statement”, and Mr. Proffitt authored the very first set of By-Laws, which were adopted on 11-13-92. Thus, this informal group of regional jail superintendents became known as the Virginia Association of Regional Jail Superintendents (VARJS). Shortly thereafter, the VARJS became incorporated and was listed on file with the State Corporation Commission and was issued a certificate on 5-12-93.
Subsequently, the By-Laws were amended by its members on 5-7-93 and 3-10-94, respectively. Further, other amendments were effective on 7-12-96, 9-11-98, and 18-99, which expanded the list of persons who could be voted as an “Honorary Member”. Delegate John J. “Butch” Davies, III was chosen by the superintendents at a meeting held on 1-8-99 at the Southside Regional Jail as the first Honorary Member”, who was not a former regional jail superintendent. Delegate Davies was recognized for his efforts in being the patron of 36 pieces of successful legislation from 1992 to 1998 on behalf of regional jails. Another amendment to the By-Laws was approved on 3-12-99 in Williamsburg and allowed a superintendent to select a “primary designee” who could attend Association meetings in his/her stead, and with full voting rights. Further, on 5-3-99, also in Williamsburg, the By-Laws were amended to allow assistant regional jail superintendents to serve as officers of VARJ.
VARJS decided to expand its membership to other regional jail staff, corporations and private citizens, so the By-Laws amendment on 7-12-96 reflected this desire, and the association is now called the Virginia Association of Regional Jails (VARJ). The Bob Barker Company of Fuquay, North Carolina became the first corporate member, and Mr. H.T. Leery of the Bob Barker Company has sponsored a $500 scholarship since 1996. VARJ now has several corporate members and scores of individual ones, too. As noted above, retiring House of Delegates member John J. “Butch” Davies, III successfully patroned 36 legislative bills on behalf of VARJ, and in January, 1999 he was voted as the Association’s very first “Honorary Member”, and on behalf of VARJ he was presented a plaque by Superintendent Sterling C. Proffitt, VARJ’s legislative committee chairman, at a Public Safety Officers’ Memorial Ceremony at the Central Virginia Regional Jail on May 14,1999.
Further, on May 3 – 5, 1999 the very first Association annual conference was held at the Fort Magruder Inn in Williamsburg, and it was an overwhelming success. Over 240 ID badges were issued and over 50 vendors set-up exhibits. Plans already were underway for the year 2000 conference. The second VARJ Conference took place again in Williamsburg at the Marriott on March 13 -15, 2000. Over 300 ID badges were issued and again about 50 vendors participated, and comments were very positive. Presently, there are 22 regional jails in operation. These 22 existing jails are comprised of approximately 80 counties, cities and towns and represent about 3.7 million citizens.
Over the last ten years VARJ has been instrumental in seeking several changes in the laws to assist the regional jails in their operation. Things such as the line of Duty (LOD) death benefit and the expansion of the conservator of the peace authority have been enacted into law. Further, after five years of effort the enhanced retirement was passed by the General Assembly in the 1999 Session, and Governor Gilmore signed it into law on 3-27-99 and became effective 7-1-99. This now permits, at the local option, for regional jail sworn staff to be able to retire at age 50 with at least 25 years of service, and to include the LEOS supplement, if 20 of those years are deemed “hazardous duty”. Several regional jails have been approved to come under this enhanced retirement. Other things such as the Heart-Lung Presumption, better training, and higher salaries and benefits are deemed goals which may be pursued for the benefit of the staff, while recognizing the fiscal and political realities and constraints of each. Now that the membership has been expanded, the VARJ looks forward to the input of all of its members for the mutual improvement and benefits to our system of public safety.