Fairfax County Jail Welcomes Visiting Danish Lawyers

April 2, 2012

Touring the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center was the first agenda item for a group of 36 defense lawyers visiting the United States from Denmark to learn first-hand about the U.S. criminal justice system. The delegation’s three-day tour also included stops at the U.S. Supreme Court, the District of Columbia Courts, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (U.S.).

Why the stop in Fairfax County? “We found you on the Internet,” said Henrik Stagetorn, head of the delegation and president of the Danish National Association of Defence Lawyers (Landsforeningen af Forsvarsadvokater in Danish). After reading about the size, structure and operations of the county jail on the Sheriff’s Office web page, Stagetorn thought the facility would provide his group with a comprehensive and representative look at local detention in the U.S.

Lt. Elbert uses member of tour group to demonstrate how body search is conducted.

Lieutenant Steve Elbert, who conducted the tour, was impressed with the questions posed by the Danish lawyers. “They were curious about the booking process, parole, solitary confinement, inmate clothing, family visiting, gangs, inmate programs and work release,” said Elbert. 

While Danish jails have many similarities to the Fairfax County jail, the lawyers noted a few differences. In Fairfax County, as in jails across the country, segregation of inmates is used as a disciplinary tool for infractions committed during incarceration. In Denmark, segregation of inmates is used only during an investigation phase to isolate an inmate from outside contact.

In Fairfax County, inmates are separated from their visitors by a glass wall to prevent contraband from being passed among them. In Demark, contact visits are generally permitted with family members. However, Danish lawyer Anne Lett acknowledged that Danish jails probably have more problems with drugs and contraband than does the Fairfax County jail.

Denmark allows all inmates to work inside the jail and earn a small wage. In Fairfax County, only inmates who meet a list of requirements may apply for a job on a workforce crew, including laundry and janitorial services, the kitchen and the library. All jobs are performed voluntarily but earn the inmate rewards such as waiver of the $2 per day housing fee and the potential to earn “exemplary good time credit” against their sentence.

The Fairfax County jail has an average daily population of 1,226 inmates. Approximately 26,000 individuals are booked into the jail annually. Charges range from trespassing and drunk-in-public to rape and murder. When individuals are arrested and sent to jail—prior to and post-conviction—they are classified according to the level of danger they pose to themselves, other inmates, correctional staff and the community. Security levels include minimum, medium and maximum. The jail is unique in the nation because it provides four types of housing— direct, linear, podular and single cell. Where inmates are housed and what activities and programs they can participate in depend on how they are classified.

The Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office conducts a limited number of group tours of the Adult Detention Center by appointment only. For more information, contact Lt. Steve Elbert via email or call 703-246-3251, TTY 711.

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