Commissioners Assess Jail Costs

A gathering was hosted in Harrison County, W.Va., on Oct. 14-15 to address the rising costs in West Virginia’s regional jails.

Thirty eight county commissioners and their staffs worked with the County Commissioners Association of West Virginia and state Regional Jail Authority Executive Director Joe DeLong to look over the issues, and attempt to find solutions.

Marshall County Commissioner Donald Mason was among local officials attending the summit, and he noted Marshall County’s jail costs have risen to about $600,000 per year.

The County Commissioners Association Executive Director Vivian Parsons declared the increasing jail costs is the top legislative priority for county commissioners.

“It is imperative for this group to find financial relief for counties, otherwise rising costs due to inmate population is going to have far reaching financial consequences. The issue, if not addressed locally and legislatively, will force commissions across the state to make cuts to important county services,” said Chris Tatum, Cabell County administrator and chairman of the association’s Regional Jail Steering Committee.

While some 30 different issues were discussed, five basic issues were singled out as especially important.

First, the group is looking for new methods for collecting outstanding court costs. Two suggestions being entertained are the cracking down on vehicle registration and license renewal payments, as well as withholding income tax refunds from those people with outstanding court costs.

Second, cost sharing among arresting entities was added, which would require an arresting officer’s entity to help pay for the first day’s per diem. Per diem in this instance is an approach by which the community is charged for each prisoner being lodged in the jail.

Third, support was given to proposed changes of statute with regards to the Regional Jail Authority’s personnel budgeting requirements and limited latitude in calculating the above per diem formula.

Fourth, the group gave its support to the Probation Before Judgment program, a pre-trial diversion program used in Baltimore, Md.

This program finds defendants guilty or innocent and even assigns appropriate punishments, but the defendant can say that they have not been convicted of the crime. This is reserved for special cases such as offenders who have little criminal record and those who take action to improve their lives in the course of trial proceedings.

Lastly, the group encouraged counties to educate their residents on the problem of jail costs and the effects they can have on other county services. Leading by example, the County Commissioners Association committed to training efforts among its members to develop the skills needed to contain jail costs.