RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — In a public meeting on Tuesday, Richmond’s sheriff defended strides to address safety measures inside the city jail as concerns from inmate families, former deputies and elected leaders grow following reported assaults. Meanwhile, the sheriff pointed to an “era of violence” that is transferring into the facility she runs.

“All of the violence that’s in the city draws into the jail,” Sheriff Antionette Irving said Tuesday during a city council public safety committee meeting.

Irving spoke publicly for roughly 45 minutes, and was questioned by the sole attendee of the committee meeting, Councilwoman Reva Trammel. The sheriff’s appearance was her first public appearance where she acknowledged renewed safety concerns.

8News previously reported an internal report alleging Sakeem Bell, a male inmate, assaulted a female Sheriff’s Deputy “S. Cole” on July 7.

Last week 8News shared exclusive video of deputy assaulted by an inmate in 2020.

“We can do more, yes we can,” Irving said to Trammell, noting that safety of deputies and inmates are at the forefront of her concerns. According to Irving, she is equipping deputies with vests to prevent from knife attacks. Though, she said none of her staff has been stabbed.

Irving also shared a new revelation about a staffing crisis inside the jail — there are 160 current vacancies.

“If we could get 80 staff that would help us, just like any other agency, if they could get half of what their vacancies are we would be able to perform at a higher level,” Irving said. 

The current deputy drought is 45% worse than last year, when there were 110 openings versus the current 160. 

Irving expanded on her allegation that violence inside the facility is due to baggage from the streets.

“We are working on different aspects of training for our staff to be prepared and be ready for things that happen,” she said. “We’ve got inmates that have 20 pages of enemies. Where do we put all these people?”

8News has not received details on the circumstances of recent assaults, though Irving said Tuesday that details cannot always be shared due to ongoing investigations and HIPAA regulations may be involved.

Irving told Trammell that more than 365 inmates at the jail — around half of the inmate population — have mental health issues. She plans to propose having a space dedicated for these inmates’ needs to city council.

“We work jointly with our provider to ensure that individuals in need of mental health care are cared for,” Irving said.