CLARKSBURG - County commissioners from all over the state gathered Monday to look at options for trimming their counties' regional jail bills.
The County Commissioners' Association of West Virginia meeting started Sunday and concluded business Monday. During a meeting Monday with Joe DeLong, the new executive director of the Regional Jail Authority, commissioners came up with a list of legislative and other action they hope will save the counties money on their bills.
"There was a subcommittee of nine commissioners that will further discuss the matter. One county estimated its regional jail bill is costing every resident $25 a year. Our total annual bill now is around $2 million. We have seen a 26 percent increase in regional jail costs over the last three years, only about 3 percent of that change was due to the increase in per diem fees," said Wood County commission President Blair Couch. "We looked at the number of arrests for that same three-year period and that number basically remained flat."
Couch said DeLong agreed to provide additional data for the commissioners.
"We hope to have some of that information available for our regional jail meeting scheduled for Monday with the magistrates, circuit court judges, drug court, day report center officials and prosecutors," Couch said.
"It's not a matter of being soft on crime, we just want to grease the wheels to make the process work faster," Couch noted. "That will include an education process not only for the public but also include other government officials to get their ideas and support."
The local commissioners had a similar meeting during the summer to see what additional resources might be needed to address the growing regional jail bill.
"We've talked long and hard about work that must be done. You must also continually monitor and check the bill itself for errors and omissions," Couch said. Wood County's regional jail bills for August was $184,952; for July, $183,536.
"That's about average for the past few months. It was averaging $171,000 during the winter months," said Mark Rhodes, deputy clerk. Rhodes said the bills are routinely scrutinized by the sheriff's department before payment is made to make sure they are accurate.
There were some unique suggestions offered at the Clarksburg session.
Couch said one commissioner suggested magistrates impose an additional day onto one-year sentences, which takes the defendant off the county's bill and makes them a state prisoner. In another county, Couch said it was reported there was a judge who was sentencing individuals to serve their jail time on weekends instead of placing them on home confinement. "That was another $5,200 that county had to pick up in additional costs," Couch said.
"We are still the only county in the state with a 24-hour holding center," Couch said. "We are in a unique position as well in that some counties don't have a city police force, all the arrests are made by the sheriff's department or state police."
Couch noted there have been numerous committees over the years asked to study the problem and see how to impact the costs including addressing recidivism.
"Texas, for example has had a large reduction in their inmate population through some programs and plans they implemented," he said. "While West Virginia's inmate population continues to rise."
Couch noted the county already has a number of alternative to jail options available, including home confinement, day report and adult and juvenile drug courts.
"I think that proves our willingness to keep looking for grants to fund these types of programs. There's not a lot left," Couch said. 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 pre-trial release.