Riverside Regional Jail hired a new superintendent Tuesday to lead a facility that in recent months has endured withering criticism from Chesterfield County judges, undergone increased state scrutiny for the deaths of two inmates, and faced multimillion-dollar budget deficits.

The jail’s governing board, the Riverside Regional Jail Authority, voted at a special meeting to hire Carmen I. DeSadier, of Flossmoor, Ill., who most recently served as chief of corrections in New Orleans with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, where she managed the daily operations of the parish jail.

DeSadier, who starts May 13, was the first woman to rise to the position of first assistant executive director with the Cook County Department of Corrections in Chicago. She has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Loyola University. 

Officials said they had received 14 applications for the position and interviewed two finalists, including DeSadier. She will receive an annual salary of $125,000.

DeSadier didn’t attend Tuesday’s brief meeting for the vote on her contract. Reached later by email, DeSadier said she is “very excited” to begin work.

“I am looking forward to meeting staff, working with the board, courts and other partners who share an interest in the facility operations,” she wrote. She declined to be interviewed or offer any comment on the jail’s issues “until I have had ample opportunity to meet staff and assess operations.”

“I do believe no matter what my findings I am more than capable of addressing them,” she said.

She will replace Col. Jeffery Newton, who led the jail for seven years and retired Dec. 1 as the problems now confronting the governing authority were heating up.

Karen Craig, who retired last year as superintendent of Southside Regional Jail in Greensville County, was appointed Riverside’s interim superintendent in early January.

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Riverside, like other regional jails, is run by a superintendent hired by a governing board of local officials and sheriffs. The jail, in Prince George County, is one of the largest in central Virginia and serves Petersburg, Hopewell, Colonial Heights and the counties of Chesterfield, Charles City, Surry and Prince George.

The hiring of a new superintendent comes at a critical juncture for the jail, which in recent months has seen four of its current or former administrators called before Chesterfield judges to answer for alleged mistreatment of inmates. Two were convicted of contempt of court and two others were put on notice for any further problems.

The facility is also awaiting the final disposition of a Virginia Board of Corrections investigation that shows staff failings may have led to the deaths of two inmates who committed suicide in 2017.

The board also is dealing with a significant decrease in revenues, the result of a substantial drop in the inmate population. The authority has had to twice dip into its “rainy day” fund to cover a revenue shortfall of $2.8 million in the current fiscal year, and a projected $2.4 million budget shortfall in fiscal 2020.

Riverside receives nearly half its funding, about $20 million, from revenue provided by the seven localities that use the jail. The deficit forced the authority to raise the daily rate it charges localities for each inmate it houses from $40 to $43. 

Chesterfield Finance Director Allan Carmody, who along with Chesterfield Sheriff Karl Leonard represents Chesterfield on the board, recently urged other board members to engage in more in-depth discussions about the issues confronting the jail and seek out more information to properly address those issues going forward.

In a letter, Carmody listed 12 matters to which he believes the board needs to pay more attention and review, including the still-pending Board of Corrections investigation of inmate deaths, the court hearings involving administrators summoned by Chesterfield judges, and various operational issues regarding inmates and staff.

Carmody also asked the board to consider an independent external audit of jail operations, which he noted the authority has discussed without action since at least August.

“The totality of the list causes me concerns regarding the ongoing finances and operations of the jail,” Carmody wrote. “My concerns are founded in part due to having insufficient information to determine the disposition or severity. In my opinion, this board has not had enough fact-based discussion on the topics of concern, while on other items, supporting information remains outstanding. These items should be kept in mind as we select our next superintendent.”

Carmody cited the Board of Corrections investigation of inmate deaths as an example of insufficient information being provided to the board. To get a better understanding of what the corrections board discussed about the matter, Carmody said he had to retrieve the state board’s meeting minutes on the agency’s website. In response to inquiries, Carmody said jail staff have said “there’s nothing to report right now, they’ve not concluded their efforts.” 

“I look at that and I say, ‘I’m reading stuff in The Times-Dispatch that’s telling me more than what you’re telling me,’ ” Carmody said in a recent interview.

But Carmody added: “I think the first three months of this year have been pretty intense for this entity. And you’ve got interim leadership in there doing the best that they can. You’ve got that transition period going on where you had the retirement of the superintendent and some of these topics had been discussed between that superintendent, his staff and this board — but yet not in their entirety.”

At the board’s last meeting, board Chairman Todd Wilson said he, Carmody and Craig would meet to discuss Carmody’s letter to determine how best to advance the topics to the board’s benefit.

“If the three of us can formulate a top priority and a second-tier priority classification of these things, and here’s how they move forward to this board, that’s what the three of us are going to try and put together,” Carmody said.

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According to The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, DeSadier resigned her post at the “troubled” Orleans Justice Center Jail twice in less than a year. She first resigned in February 2016 after nine months on the job. She then returned in May 2016 and stayed until Oct. 18 of that year.

After leaving the first time, DeSadier returned three months later, weeks before the start of a federal court hearing to determine if a federal takeover of the jail was warranted. Before that hearing concluded, the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and other parties who had pushed for the takeover agreed to the appointment of an independent contractor to run the jail instead of a total takeover, the newspaper said.

Gary Maynard, who previously ran corrections departments in four states, was hired to fill that position, and DeSadier’s resignation came about three weeks after Maynard, who answers only to a federal judge as an independent compliance director, took his post, The Times-Picayune said. DeSadier’s resignation, along with that of the sheriff’s office’s human resources director, also came the same week that a 15-year-old inmate died by suicide in his cell at the jail, the newspaper added.

At the time of DeSadier’s second departure, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman issued a statement saying that she served “with honor and distinction,” according to The Times-Picayune.

mbowes@timesdispatch.com
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