PARKERSBURG - Rising regional jail costs spurred Wood County commissioners Thursday to hold another roundtable discussion with law enforcement, magistrate and circuit court representatives, prosecutors and officials with the home confinement and day report diversion programs to discuss possible ways to curb the bills.
The county is billed per diem for its inmates incarcerated at the North Central Regional Jail in Greenwood, Ritchie County. Jail bills have ranged from $142,000 back in April of 2010 to the most current bill for $187,587. The regional jail rate is $47.53 a day per inmate.
"We asked for the group meeting to discuss ways to improve policies and procedures and see if there are any innovative programs or other ways to reduce the bill without putting the public at risk. We are not going soft on crime, there are people who need to be incarcerated and they will incarcerated," commission President Blair Couch told those attending Thursday's meeting.
Photo by Jody Murphy
Wood County commissioners held a roundtable discussion Thursday with law enforcement, magistrate and circuit court representatives, prosecutors and officials with the home confinement and day report center diversion programs about options to reduce the county’s rising regional jail bill.
Wood County has several jail diversion programs already in place - a home confinement program and day report center, and adult and juvenile drug courts. The home confinement program allows select inmates to be monitored electronically through ankle bracelets while living at home, maintaining employment, attending counseling and other mandated services. The Mid-Ohio Valley DRC provides individual and group counseling for substance abuse, domestic violence, anger management and other issues, drug testing and community service programs.
The county's newest program is a pre-trial coordinator who works through the DRC, providing assessments and screening for incarcerated individuals unable to post bond to determine their eligibility for diversion services while awaiting disposition. Those accused of sex offenses and other violent crimes are not be eligible for the pre-trial release. Wood County officials are hopeful the new program will cut down on rising regional jail bills by deferring qualified defendants to the pre-trial, home confinement and, or DRC programs while also rehabilitating individuals to hopefully reduce recidivism. County officials said Cabell County was able to reduce its jail bill by about $20,000 a month after implementing a pre-trial diversion program.
Jeff Williams, DRC director, said his program has 176 clients now in Wood County. There are 130 on the home confinement program.
Prosecutor Jason Wharton said he has designated Jodi Boylen from his office to review reports on inmates in jail and to see what cases are ready for presentation to grand jury and try to make sure, if they are ready, those cases proceed in an efficient manner.
"As of June 21, the county had 29 individuals at the regional jail facing felony offenses not yet indicted. Of those, pleas have been worked out for 11 of them, three may be transferred to felony jurisdiction, and there are three are repeat former home confinement offenders. The rest are either sex offenders, drug dealers or alleged robbery defendants," Boylen said.
Wood County Magistrate Donna Jackson said cases are turned over as quickly as possible, including holding status hearings within seven days.
Court officials noted there is a 30-60 day or longer wait between the time of conviction/plea until a required pre-sentence report is completed by probation for sentencing. Officials noted probation has limited staff and a rising caseload and must prepare detailed reports for the judges. County officials said they could lobby the state to see if the county could get additional probation officers.
Williams said his office has also obtained new alcohol-monitoring devices that may mean more individuals charged with alcohol-related offenses could be placed on the DRC program. Williams said the devices sense when individuals are consuming alcohol.
Williams noted there was a $10,000 drop between this month's regional jail bill and May's bill.
"This could bust our budget if we have to spend another $500,000 a year on the regional jail bill, and we are willing to listen to any suggestions or ideas you all have that might help," Couch said. "We realize there is no quick fix."
"This isn't just a problem in Wood County," Wharton noted.
According to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office, if the state's incarceration rates continue to increase at the same pace, the West Virginia Division of Justice and Community Services estimates the prison population will increase by an additional 45 percent to 9,732 people by 2020. Adding prison beds to ease existing crowding and ensure space for the additional anticipated growth will cost up to $200 million in construction costs and an additional $70 million annually in operation costs by fiscal year 2020.
"Our prison population has grown an average of 5.7 percent each year from 2000 to 2009. That growth rate makes it nearly three and a half times higher than the national average and one of the fastest growing prison populations in the U.S.," said Senate President Jeffrey Kessler.
West Virginia prisons are at capacity and unable to house approximately 6,600 people sentenced to the West Virginia Division of Corrections facilities. To compensate for the growing population, DOC has increased its reliance on regional jails, with about 1,800 DOC inmates currently being held in regional jail facilities.
To guide a comprehensive analysis of West Virginia's criminal justice system, the state established a working group of legislative leaders from across the political spectrum, court officials, state agency directors, and criminal justice stakeholders to review trends in the state's criminal justice system and ultimately develop policy options for state leaders to review in time for the 2013 legislative session, according to the governor's office.
"Our prison population is growing and our violent crime rate is increasing. We have a choice to make: continue on this path, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on top of what we're already appropriating in hopes that it has more of an impact on crime than it has to date, or use data to determine if there is a way to spend less and have a bigger impact on crime," Gov. Tomblin said.