PARKERSBURG For what is reportedly the first time since its inception, the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority board announced it is lowering the daily charge for prisoner care.
The change will take effect July 1, 2013, and while it's only cents, from $48.80 to $48.25, regional jail officials say it will mean savings of more than $500,000 annually for West Virginia counties.
"Based on long hours and hard work by the regional jail financial staff and executive director Joe DeLong, the board voted to reduce the prisoner rate. This is the first time the rate has been reduced in the history of the Regional Jail Authority. This reduction will save the state of West Virginia and its counties $897,000 per year. West Virginia counties' part of this savings will total $516,000," Wood County Sheriff Jeff Sandy, chairman for the Regional Jail Authority board, said in a written announcement Friday.
"I think the regional jail authority is cognizant of the pain counties are suffering and trying to make the costs as reasonable as possible," commission President Blair Couch said Friday.
Wood County's annual regional jail bill was around $1.8 million in 2011 and this year is over the $2 million mark. At the same time, the per day care rate had risen by 3 percent, the number of arrests in the county stayed about even, and the bill continued to climb.
The regional bills were discussed earlier this past week with local court, police and diversion program officials in a meeting called by the Wood County Commission. The County Commission Association of West Virginia considered the issues in a summit earlier this month in Clarksburg.
As a result of the CCAWV summit, the association formed a committee of county commissioners from around the state to continue looking at options for trimming counties' regional jail bills. Their next meeting is set for Nov. 19.
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.
According to a press release from Vivian Parsons, director of the CCAWV, the regional jail staff reported if the current jail per diem formula was strictly interpreted the rate would be based on this formula: total expected expense ($87,548,000) divided by the total billable days from last year (4,647) and the per diem would be $51.62 for July 1, 2013. In this strict interpretation there is no consideration for ancillary funds received by RJA. When using these additional revenues from sources like inmate phone usage and commissary, to offset expense, the RJA board is able to lower the per diem to $48.25.
"It also saves DOC (Department of Corrections) and the state $381,000, for a total savings of $897,000, and in reality there is even more savings, because we know that based on past experience, last year's number of billable days will increase for the coming year," Parsons noted in the press release.
The regional jail authority is also looking into a new rate with the federal government. The current rate is $56 daily and the authority is seeking a rate closer to the mid $70 range.
Some of the top priority issues of concern listed at the CCAWV meeting on jail costs included developing methods for collection of outstanding court costs. This might include checking the status of such payments at the time of vehicle registration/license renewals or withholding income tax refunds for outstanding magistrate/circuit court costs. Another option discussed was sharing jail costs among all arresting entities, having the arresting officers' entity pay the first day's per diem cost. Proposed changes to the statute regarding the authority personnel budgeting requirements and limiting latitude in calculating per diem formula were a topic of consideration. Another suggestion was consideration of a probation before judgment pre-trial diversion program already in use in Baltimore, Md. It was also suggested that counties institute public education awareness programs relating to jail costs and the resulting effect on other county services.