HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - Fifty female Henrico inmates are now being housed at Chesterfield's County Jail. It's all part of an effort to relieve overcrowding at Henrico's jails. Sheriff Michael Wade says a boom in the female inmate population has made it harder to house them, and he's getting help from Chesterfield County.
The first night in jail can be scary for anyone.
For Bhamini Patel, overcrowding at Henrico Jail West made it worse.
"It was really, really scary," she said. "I was in a dayroom where there was like maybe 50, 60 people."
The dayroom is supposed to be a place for inmates to eat and hang out, but now they're using it to sleep.
"I was sleeping on the floor between two poles," said Patel.
Sheriff Wade says the female inmate population is booming.
"We saw it creeping up on 200," he said. "Then it went from 200 to 300 in less than a year."
The sheriff says he only has about 239 beds. What is causing the overcrowding? Sheriff Wade blames the opioid/heroin epidemic and the high rate of prostitution arrests.
"I think judges used to be more lenient on females than males, but I think with more mandatory sentences and things, it's created an increase in their population."
The sheriff decided to ask for help from Chesterfield County. The two counties came to an agreement where Henrico will pay Chesterfield $750,000 to house fifty of its inmates. That money is per diem and will pay for the inmate's care. In order for a female inmate to get moved to Chesterfield, she has to meet certain criteria, including no disciplinary issues and minimal medical issues.
The deal started a few weeks ago and Patel says she's already seeing a difference.
"It's been much better. Less fights, less arguing," she said.
However, overcrowding is still an issue, and there are still some women sleeping on the floor, especially when inmates come from Jail East for their court dates. Sheriff Wade says the county is talking about expanding the jail.
For now, another solution is moving work release and weekenders off-site.
"Across the country, people have converted warehouses and things like that into jail cells," he said.
Henrico's jails are accredited and are subject to inspection every three years.
Copyright 2017 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved