Expansion features new courtroom, additional holding cells for inmates awaiting trial and more space for public access

PRINCE GEORGE — Prince George County has unveiled a completed $1.9 million expansion of its court building. The expansion added a new courtroom, increased space for public access and more holding chambers for inmates awaiting trial.

The county held a ribbon cutting for the new courtroom on Friday, June 21.

The added room is a Juvenile and Domestic Relations courtroom for the 6th Judicial District of Virginia, which serves Greenville, Emporia, Brunswick, Surry, Sussex, Hopewell and Prince George. Prince George was the only one of those localities that didn’t have separate courtrooms for Juvenile/Domestic Relations and General District courts.

“The addition of this courtroom allows for the first time in this county, each court, the circuit court, district court, the general domestic relations district court, to have its own dedicated space, to be in session simultaneously, to operate more efficiently and most importantly, to increase public access to the legal system,” said 6th Judicial District Circuit Court Judge William Edward Tomko III.

The capacity of the old courtrooms was 13 people, four of which were the judge, two bailiffs, and a clerk. Everyone at trials was in close proximity to each other.

“In a small courtroom folks were sometimes at arms-length, sometimes could reach out to each other. For children and families in very stressful situations, or people that are not safe, that’s a big deal,” said Chief Judge of Juvenile and Domestic Relations Jacqueline R. Waymack. “You have little children who are victims, standing very very close to the person who hurt them. That’s very traumatic for people. So we’re going to be able to remove that issue and make things much better for our children and our families.”

Those space issues also translated to the Sheriff’s office, which has the task of transporting inmates to court and detaining them during trial. A recent court date had 21 inmates transported for court. The old facility only had four small holding cells.

“The additions of these new holding cells will give us the ability to separate inmates as necessary and also creates a much more secure facility,” said Sheriff Harold E. Allin III. The new courtroom with the way its been designed and that it’s much larger than the courtroom we’re working out of now, will provide more security for the judges and all others that enter the courtroom.”

Prince George is also expanding its capacity with the addition of a new Juvenile and Domestic Relations judge, after a General Assembly vote. The additional judge gives the County three judges. Prince George Juvenile/Domestic Relations District Court will go to four days of operation per week, instead of two previously.

Prince George County Administrator Percy C. Ashcraft said that the courts’ increased burden and usage was a sign of the county’s continued growth over the past decades. He referenced growing pains of being a county on the rise.

“I call to your attention that in recent years, we have seen greater calls for public safety than ever before. We have legislative mandates that have increased eligibility requirements for Social Services. The expansion of public utilities is more in the conversation today than it ever has been. And the Board of Supervisors must decide and wrestle with the problem as to how to strategically attract business, and residential growth, but still maintain the rural landscape of this beautiful county,” Ashcraft said.

After a short ceremony, members of the Board, County Administration, judges and other officials held a ribbon cutting inside the new courtroom.

By Sean Jones, Staff Writer
The Progress-Index
Sean Jones can be reached at sjones@progress-index.com or 804-722-5172.