By DREW PARKER
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News Register
MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. — A bill in the House of Delegates would reduce counties’ costs to house inmates at West Virginia’s regional jails by moving up the date at which they become the state’s responsibility.
House Bill 2845 would make the Division of Corrections responsible for the costs of housing and maintaining an inmate beginning the day after the individual’s conviction. Under current law, inmates remain the counties’ responsibility until they are sentenced.
“The way it is now, the state doesn’t pick up the cost of an inmate until the commitment date,” said Delegate Joseph Canestraro, D-Marshall, who is among the bill’s 10 co-sponsors. “If passed, the bill will cut down on average about six weeks’ — or 42 days’ — time that the counties don’t have to pay for each inmate.
“Using last year’s figures, there were 2,400 inmates committed to the DOC. It cost $42.85 a day for each of the counties,” Canestraro continued. “For this bill, the counties as a whole will save about $5 million as the funds will be picked up by the state.”
Canestraro added the bill is still awaiting approval from the House Finance Committee.
“Hopefully it will pass because it will really aid the 55 counties, but it may get amended in the Senate,” he said. “The only concern anyone may have is that it’s going to add costs for the state to pick up and there may be some pushback in regards to the budget situation, but in my mind it’s more important to give our counties some relief.”
A fiscal note attached to the bill indicates it would cost the state an additional $3.85 million per year.
According to Marshall County Administrator Betsy Frohnapfel, the county budgets $600,000 for Northern Regional Jail costs each year. She added monthly costs have increased in recent years, averaging around $50,000.
“The regional jail bills are a little higher than they have been in the past. They’re averaging about $50,000 a month. Just a few years ago, ours were averaging around $38,000,” she said.
“If it passes and the changes are implemented correctly, I think we we would see a noticeable decrease in our bill. … The commission has not talked about it officially, although it has been discussed. The West Virginia Association of Counties does a very good job watching any bill that has to do with regional jails because it is something that dramatically impacts all commissions throughout the state.”
Ohio County Commissioner Randy Wharton said the bill would be positive for the county and could save about $100,000 per year.
“As county commissioners, of course we would be in favor of the bill. The bit of time between conviction and sentencing could make a major difference,”Wharton said. “Our judges are very good at getting that done right away, but if the DOC was to pick that up we would very much be in favor of that.”
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