Regional jails summit aims to cut costs

CHARLES TOWN – The Jefferson County Commission is looking for ways to reduce the cost of confining local offenders in Eastern Regional Jail, an expense that commissioners say is threatening to take a big bite out of their bottom line. On Thursday, it met with prosecutors, judges, law enforcement and regional jail officials to discuss ways to make that happen.

[cleeng_content id="299452327" description="Read it now!" price="0.15" t="article"]“What we’re looking for today is a buy-in from some of the people around this table to see what we can do to reduce regional jail costs,” said Commissioner Dale Manuel, saying he hoped for a policy that would “allow us not to have to compromise some services somewhere else in our budget.”

Joe DeLong, executive director of the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority, said he understands the tradeoffs associated with regional jail bills.

“Every dollar that goes into regional jails is a dollar that cannot go into parks or local roads or things that truly support community,” DeLong said.

DeLong said the Regional Jail Authority has been working to improve it’s accounting standards and reduce costs, pointing out a recent 50 cent reduction in the per diem charge for inmates. He said he hopes another such reduction may be worked out soon.

He also said that costs can be reduced if regional jails are able to garner $1.2 million in funding from the state Legislature to pay for drug treatment and other programs often mandated by courts as prerequisites for parol. There are many inmates currently incarcerated at regional jails who would be eligible for parol if they completed such programs, but, since the programs are not offered, they serve their entire sentence, he said.

Commissioner Patsy Noland proposed examining establishing a department of collections associated with local courts that would allow for measures other than the issuance of an arrest warrant in response to a failure to pay jail costs and penalty fines.

Noland said the practice of suspending drivers licenses in response to nonpayment of fines ought to be re-examined, since it can often mean that offenders are unable to work, and therefore unable to pay fines.

Magistrate Gail Boober said she has been working to issue summons, rather than arrest warrants, for individuals accused of nonviolent crimes. She said the county should examine a risk-screening program that would recommend punishments other than jail for individuals accused of petty crimes like driving without a license or possession of marijuana.

Several individuals also stressed the importance of establishing serious local drug treatment programs to help individuals transition out of jail without falling back into the habits that put them in jail in the first place.[/cleeng_content]

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