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WV regional jail populations on the decline

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Eastern Regional Jail saw an approximately 7 percent decrease in its average daily incarceration of inmates during fiscal year 2015, continuing a two-year drop from a 17-year high in 2013, according to the Regional Jail Authority annual report.

The annual report focuses on the performance and inmate statistics of all adult regional jails in West Virginia from July 1, 2014, until June 30, 2015. Statewide, the system saw a 12.3 percent drop from the 2013 fiscal year average incarceration high of 4,801.

The reduction in inmates is partially attributed to the improvement in the Division of Correction’s capacity, according to West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety spokesman Lawrence Messina. He said starting in 2013, the St. Mary’s Correctional Center in Pleasants County began expanding its capacity and Salem Correctional Center converted from a juvenile services institution.

By expanding the DOC capacity, the backlog of convicted felons awaiting transfer to a prison has been alleviated, Messina said. He said looking ahead, the backlog should be further reduced as felony offenders who have served most of their sentence in jail will now be parole eligible thanks to the Justice Reinvestment Act.

When compared to the 10 jails in the system, the ERJ, the oldest regional jail in the system, had the seventh highest average amount of incarcerated inmates in the state, at 399. Western Regional Jail, which serves Cabell, Lincoln, Mason, Putnam and Wayne counties, had the highest average, at 587 inmates per day.

Nearby Potomac Highlands Regional Jail, which serves Grant, Mineral, Hardy, Hampshire and Pendleton counties, reported the lowest daily average amount of inmates for the state, at 226 inmates, a 146 percent decrease from its 2013 high.

The Regional Jail Authority also breaks down inmates by their status: Pretrial felons, convicted felons, pretrial misdemeanors, misdemeanor convicts, federal inmates and inmates under the supervision of the Division of Corrections.

Of the 399 inmates at the ERJ, 47 percent were pretrial felons, 14.5 percent were DOC inmates and 12.5 percent were pretrial misdemeanor inmates. Compared to the other jails, the ERJ had the fourth highest average daily amount of pretrial felons, according to the report.

Statewide, the top five charges for jail inmates in fiscal year 2015 were domestic battery, obstruction, DUI, first offense, simple possession and bench warrants.

These were the same top five charges for the year prior, according to the report.

In regard to felonies, grand larceny accounted for the highest amount of charges, followed by possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, burglary, felony conspiracy and delivery of a controlled substance. In fiscal year 2014, operating a clandestine drug laboratory outranked delivery by 70 charges, the report stated.

In the entire regional jail authority, whites accounted for 86 percent of inmates, with blacks making up 11 percent and Hispanics 1.5 percent, during fiscal year 2015. By gender, men made up to 76.6 percent of inmates, whereas females comprised 23.3 percent. By age, the 20-to-29 demographic was the highest in the authority, making up about 36.5 percent of inmates, according to the report.

Staff writer Henry Culvyhouse can be contacted at 304-263-8931, ext. 215, or [email protected].

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