PARKERSBURG - Wood County commissioners, court and diversion program officials and police held another meeting Monday to look at options to address the rising regional jail bill.
Wood County's most recent regional jail bills were $184,952 for August; for July it was $183,536.
The meeting with local officials comes on the heels of another summit in Clarksburg of the County Commissioners Association of West Virginia. A committee was established at the CCAWV meeting to continue researching the problem plaguing all the counties. 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, the DOC has increased its reliance on regional jails, with about 1,800 DOC inmates being held in regional jail facilities in addition to the regional jail inmates already there.
Photos by?Pamela Brust
Wood County Prosecutor Jason Wharton was among court officials Monday meeting to discuss potential ways to reduce the county’s regional jail bill.
According to regional jail records, Wood County's annual regional jail bill was around $1.6 million; in 2011 it was $1.8 million and this year it is more than $2 million.
"At the same time, for those years, the number of inmates from Wood County went from 987 down to 943. The number of arrests stayed about the same, the per diem increased by 3 percent, but the bill went up by about 26 percent," commission President Blair Couch said.
The state has suggested counties consider diversion programs. Wood County already offers several diversion programs including home confinement, day report center and drug courts for adults and juveniles as well as a new grant-funded pre-trial diversion program. But the new pre-trial diversion program coordinator Suzette Hall said she's having difficulty getting court-appointed attorneys to allow her access to their clients to determine eligibility for the program. She said she has about 40 inmates who might be candidates for the program, but she has not been allowed access to interview them. She told those gathered for the meeting Monday that in one case she could have saved the county more than $5,000 if the individual had been placed on the program.
"I've sent out letters to all the attorneys and have requested 40 people to be on the program, but as of this date, there are none because the defense attorneys will not cooperate and allow access to their clients. We are trying to save the county some money, but we can't get permission to for assessments from the court-appointed defense attorneys," Hall said.
Hall, who formerly worked in Arizona, which has a public defender system, said a similar program there was very successful. "If we could get 40 on the program here, the county would see a savings of about $58,000 a month," Hall noted.
Pre-trial diversion offers the opportunity for individuals incarcerated in the regional jail who can't make bond to undergo an assessment and evaluation to determine eligibility for diversion services. If they are found to be a good fit for the program, Hall would make a recommendation to the defense attorney and prosecutor. The defendant might be assigned to a diversion program while awaiting disposition. There is no charge for the pre-trial diversion assessment and letters went out in March notifying area attorneys of the new program. The Mid-Ohio Valley Day Report Center received a grant for the pre-trial diversion program. Officials said the idea behind the program is to help relieve overcrowding by releasing individuals who may be languishing in jail that would qualify for pre-trial release, help them become productive citizens and hopefully trim recidivism rates. Pre-trial diversion programs are being implemented all over the country to try and address chronic prison and jail overcrowding.
There was some discussion about sharing jail costs with the arresting police agencies. At the present time, the police agency making the arrest brings the individual to the holding center where they are held until they are transported to regional jail. In some counties, the arresting police entity pays the cost for the first day since they transport the individual to regional jail, which is located in Doddridge County. Some counties don't have holding centers.
"That would mean the Williamstown, Vienna, Parkersburg and our department would have to take an officer off patrol and become a cab driver. That would be a tremendous burden to Wood County," said Sheriff Jeff Sandy.
"We only have five. We can't afford to have someone taking people to Doddridge County. It would really hurt us," said Williamstown police Chief B.D. Adkins. Parkersburg police officials said it would also be a burden on their department.
The per-diem cost for prisoners is $48.80. The regional jail authority will meet on Oct. 25 at which time a new rate may be set. Sandy, who serves on the regional jail board, said the per-diem rate is set by the state. The regional jail authority has to approve it.
Sandy noted if the county was still operating a jail, the cost would be even greater than the regional jail.
"We did a study, and to have all the additional requirements that we would need to meet, having a nurse, kitchen and other resources, it would cost about $63.90 per day if the county was still running the county jail. The national average is $129 per day to house an inmate," Sandy said. Mark Rhodes, deputy clerk and a former sheriff's department employee, said when the county jail closed around 2001 as a jail, the per-day care cost was about $47.50.
Steve Stephens, administrator for the home confinement program/holding center, said during September, 101 defendants posted bond, saving the county $48.80 a day plus the cost of transportation.