State and local officials look at jail cost-cutting

PARKERSBURG – West Virginia Division of Corrections Executive Director Joe DeLong met with local judicial and law officials Friday to talk about trimming the county regional jail costs and what is being done on the state level to address the rising costs.

The special session Friday, sponsored by the Wood County Commission, was part of a continuing effort to trim the regional jail bills. The ongoing efforts have resulted in a $100,000 decrease in the bills for the past fiscal year compared to the year before. But commission President Wayne Dunn said the June bill was $185,000, amounting to about $837 an inmate a month. Wood County’s regional jail bills were $184,952 for August 2012; for July of that year it was $183,536. According to regional jail records, Wood County’s annual regional jail bill was around $1.8 million in 2011 and in 2012 it was more than $2 million.

DeLong told those attending Friday’s session since taking over he has undertaken a number of cost-cutting measures and changes. The agency has about a $90 million budget.

“We have corrected some deficiencies, increased technology, increased controls on purchasing and other cost-cutting measures. We now run the jails like a private sector business with our emphasis on cost reduction and efficiency,” DeLong said.

The cost-saving measures translated into the authority voting to lower the per-diem inmate rate from $48.80 to $48.25 effective this month.

“And we hope to make another per-diem fee reduction in October,” DeLong said.

DeLong said most of the overcrowding at the jail level is the result of overflow from overcrowded prisons, not a lack of regional jail facilities, and if expansion is in the future, it would probably mean more prisons being built, not more regional jails.

DeLong said recent legislation that has been signed by the governor includes presentence risk assessments that should assist judges in sentencing and making decisions about whether an individual would be a good candidate for an alternative placement like home confinement.

Wood Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Reed said individuals may sit in jail for several months if they are unable to bond out and the distance between here and the regional jail, about a 45-minute drive one way, may be prohibitive to getting defense attorneys together with their clients. Reed noted there are delays inherent in the judicial system, but sometimes there are individuals waiting in jail simply because they are unable to post bond, not because they are a flight risk or other issue that would mean they should be kept in jail.

“Those charged with felonies could be in jail 6-8 months before going to trial,” the judge said.

Prosecutor Jason Wharton said he has assigned an assistant prosecutor to stay with each case, start to disposition. “They are looking at the criminal history, talking to police, and we’ve seen reductions in bound-over cases waiting for long periods of time to move on,” he said.

Wharton said he’s also instituted a mid-term special grand jury in addition to the mandated three terms to try and speed cases along.

“We have been able to cut out some regional jail time by doing that, saving about $37,828 in regional jail costs,” Wharton said.

Wood Circuit Judge J.D. Beane noted the local holding center has meant some cost savings as well, by enabling individuals who have been arrested to have more time to try and arrange bond before having to go to the regional jail.

Judicial and law enforcement officials noted they have seen a significant increase in drug cases.

“I think we are all willing to meet and try and keep the costs down, but I don’t, I never, consider cost at sentencing, but I think we can look at ways to speed up the process,” Beane said.

“It’s just how much micromanagement do you want to get,” Reed noted.

Senate Bill 371, which has been signed by the governor, requires the Division of Corrections to perform graduated methods of mental health screens, appraisals and evaluations on persons committed to its custody among other provisions.

Dunn said suggestions and comments provided by the officials will be taken under consideration.