Sheriff selling home detention to cut jail costs

Jefferson has fewer deputies than elsewhere

CHARLES TOWN – Sheriff Pete Dougherty says the county can reduce the number of offenders sent to the regional jail by increasing the use of home confinement.

[cleeng_content id="300464317" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]In May, the Jeferson County Commission convened a summit on regional jail costs, the purpose of which was to consider ways to reduce the substantial fees the county pays to incarcerate citizens convicted on misdemeanor crimes.

Dougherty said the county could save significant costs by shifting toward the use of home confinement as an alternative sentence.

“I think there are some ways that we can do some things significantly,” he told the Commission. “This is one of the things we need to try to socialize with magistrates a little bit.”

Dougherty said the county’s current system presented obstacles to effectively implementing the shift.

“I was not very happy with the system that we have now, because it requires you to have a home telephone in order to get it to work,” he said. “I said, ‘I think there has got to be better systems out there.’”

He told the commission that he, along with County Administrator Debbie Keyser, had been examining new home confinement systems, and felt that they had found one that would work better and save money.

“We now have found that we have a GPS locator system that does not require you to have a home phone and it will monitor you 24 hours a day,” he said. “You can program in whether you can leave the county or you can’t leave the county or whether you can go in certain defined areas.

“The best part is the daily cost is a little less that the current cost is, and, based on an example I did for 30 days of jail versus 90 days of home confinement … even if the person could pay $2 a day as opposed to the $8 they were charging before, the county would have a cost avoidance of $990.”

Dougherty said the county would also save in less obvious ways.

“If this person already has a job and we put them in jail, they obviously don’t have a job [anymore],” he said. “They’re not paying taxes, forget about the local taxes; if they have family and children there are other costs that come to us, other societal costs.”

Dougherty said the system would not leave residents less safe than the current jail-centered model.

“The citizens are as secure because, if a person leaves, we will know immediately,” he said. “An alarm, if you will, goes off, tells us, any deputy can respond, and the person has a tracking device on them.”

Commissioner Dale Manuel said he supported the idea. “We really need to get out there and do it, and I appreciate your taking steps in that direction.”

Commissioner Patsy Noland agreed, saying, “It just makes a lot of sense to do that.”

In other matters, Dougherty also told the commission that previous public statements to the effect that his department was overstaffed due to understaffing of the State Police were incorrect.

“We are not overstaffed in the Sheriff’s Office by West Virginia standards or by national standards,” he said. “We have less deputies per capita than any other county that I could get actual numbers on.”

Dougherty noted that Jefferson County currently has 24 deputies, including two vacant positions, whereas the Fayette County office, with a smaller population, has 32. He said Jefferson County’s sheriff’s office was around two-thirds the size it should be by federal standards.

Commissioner Dale Manuel said he feels that the understaffing of state police barracks is a statewide issue, one that transfers the cost of law enforcement from the state to the county.

“We don’t have the adequate number of state troopers that we should have here in Jefferson County,” he said. “It is basically because of what is happening in state government. They are not putting them through the classes. They are not getting them out to the counties.”

Dougherty also told the commission that his department is spending significant man hours transporting mentally ill patients to far-off state mental health facilities.

He said that over the last year 57 people had been detained by the Sheriff’s Department based on suspicion that a person might harm themselves or another.

“We have to hold that person until a mental hygiene commissioner can be secured,” he said. “We transported people over 16,000 miles last year, and expended over 1,800 hours of labor to accomplish that.”

“We continue to support any efforts that would get local [mental health] service like that into Jefferson County,” he said.

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