Sandy pitches corrections consolidation

Says move would save state and counties money

Clockwise from bottom, West Virginia Division of Corrections Commissioner Betsy Jividen, state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy, Wood County Sheriff Steve Stephens and West Virginia Division of Juvenile Services Director William Marshall listen to discussion during Monday’s Wood County Commission meeting. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — West Virginia Secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety Jeff Sandy asked Wood County commissioners Monday to support a consolidation of correctional agencies he said would benefit the state and its counties.

Sandy, a former Wood County sheriff, met with commissioners Monday to discuss Senate Bill 369 and House Bill 4338, which would merge the Division of Corrections, Regional Jail and Correctional Facilities Authority and Division of Juvenile Services into a single Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He was joined by Division of Corrections Commissioner Betsy Jividen and Division of Juvenile Services Director William Marshall.

The legislation, Sandy said, would eliminate redundancies and save money while also allowing the state to provide needed raises to attract and retain correctional officers, without raising costs on counties.

The regional jail bill, assessed at $48.25 per inmate per day, is a major cost for the county, reaching about $250,000 a month last year. And Sandy noted it doesn’t even cover the actual daily cost of housing an inmate, which is a little over $53.

“Imagine what that would do to your budget,” Sandy said. “It would cost your county hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.”

West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy, right, speaks with Wood County Sheriff Steve Stephens after Monday’s County Commission meeting. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

But the administration has requested a cap of $48.25 on the regional jail per diem, he said, although the legislation as written sets caps of $48.50 in the House bill and $55 for the Senate.

Without other changes, the proposed salary increases of $6,000 over three years would add about $1.53 each year to the per diem for the counties, according to Sandy. But increasing the charge to the U.S. Marshals for housing federal inmates from $65, one of the lowest rates in the nation, by $20 and having the Division of Corrections pay the actual $53 cost will generate an estimated $2.7 million, with additional funding from reduced overtime costs as jobs are filled and employees retained, he said.

Another part of the proposal is creating a single transportation division to take inmates at all state correctional facilities back and forth to court, rather than each agency having its own. There are about 5,000 transports a month between them, Sandy said.

“Right off the bat, we believe we can cut that in half,” he said.

If local authorities needed to take someone to a correctional center after the transport for that day had left, they could drop them off at the Parkersburg Correctional Center instead, thus avoiding taking an officer off the road, Sandy said. The state would then take the individual to the facility best suited for them, including a planned site dedicated for those needing drug treatment.

Wood County Commission President Blair Couch asks a question during Monday’s commission meeting. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Commission President Blair Couch noted commissioners recently asked local cities to begin paying a $30 intake fee per prisoner they drop off at the Wood County Holding Center to help fund increased wages for county corrections officers.

“I think that we won’t need that intake fee if you’re able to consolidate and Parkersburg PD is able to drop prisoners off at the Parkersburg Correctional Center,” he said.

Another aspect of consolidation would be the creation of a single academy for correctional officers, so they could be trained to work at any of the state’s institutions. Sandy said that would allow personnel from one facility to cover at another when needed, while Marshall noted it offers more opportunities for career advancement.

“That’s why the consolidation makes all the good sense in the world,” Couch said.

Sandy said he’s already implemented some changes that have saved $1.1 million over the last eight months, including closing the separate Regional Jail Authority offices and moving those employees in with the Division of Corrections.

“We would welcome a resolution from Wood County to the governor stating that you’re supportive of the consolidation,” he said.

No action was taken Monday, but Couch said he expects such a resolution to be on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting.