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Measure would change billing for inmate costs

By TIM MACVEAN

The Inter-Mountain

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — A bill proposed to the House Judiciary Committee that would change the date when the state Division of Corrections becomes responsible for costs associated with maintaining inmates could save counties across the state up to $5 million.

House Bill 2845 would establish that the DOC is responsible for all costs of “housing and maintaining an inmate the day following an inmate’s conviction,” rather than when the commitment order is entered after an inmate’s sentencing hearing.

Randolph County Commission President Mike Taylor explained that after a defendant’s conviction a pre-sentence investigation report is prepared prior to sentencing. The report process can take up to 60 days. During that time, the inmate remains housed at a county regional jail while receiving credit for his or her DOC sentence.

“We have supported that bill because once they’re convicted there can be a time lapse of anywhere from three to four to five to six weeks,”Taylor said. “Everybody that is convicted, before they are sentenced, is entitled to a pre-sentence investigation and the whole time that they’re doing the pre-sentence investigation they are still on the county’s dime. The stance the commissioners are taking is that once they are convicted then they should be on the Division of Corrections, not the county commission.”

Michael Parker, Randolph County’s prosecuting attorney and president of the West Virginia Association of Counties, said the bill would assist counties across the state, especially those struggling to pay increasing regional jail bills.

“House Bill 2845 is a legislative priority that the West Virginia Association of Counties has been working on for some time now, which would assist county government in dealing with increasing regional jail bills. Essentially, the Division of Corrections would be responsible for the costs of jailing an inmate after they are convicted rather than after they are sentenced,” Parker said.

“Depending upon the circumstances, delay between conviction and sentencing can average between six and eight weeks. At $48.25 per day per inmate, this would save counties approximately $3,000 per inmate who is incarcerated pending sentencing, and even more if there are additional delays between conviction and sentencing,” he continued.

The DOC estimates that this bill would have an annual fiscal impact of $3,851,074 in increased billing from the Regional Jail Authority to the DOC for housing offenders committed to the custody of the Commissioner of Corrections, according to the West Virginia Legislature website. That estimate is based upon commitment figures from fiscal year 2016 and the difference in days between the court order date and the date of conviction.

Parker added he believes the state taking on the cost of inmates after their conviction would assist many counties that struggle to pay the monthly bill.

“H.B. 2845 was referred for a fiscal note, which showed that it would cost the state $3,851,074 upon implementation. Although I recognize that the state is dealing with significant budget issues, many counties throughout this state are struggling themselves to pay ever-increasing regional jail bills,” Parker said.

“In working with the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Association and the County Commissioners’ Association to reach this proposed legislation, we feel that it is fair and reasonable that the state bear the burden of incarcerating felons upon their conviction, as some were advocating for reimbursement for all time served prior to conviction.”

During a Jan. 19 Randolph County Commission meeting, Commissioners moved $400,000 into a fund to help offset the monthly regional jail bill, which was $169,000 in the month of December alone.

House Bill 2845 was sponsored by Delegates Charlotte Lane, R-Kanawha; Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha; Ron Walters, R-Kanawha; Andrew Robinson, D-Kanawha; Larry L. Rowe, D-Kanawha; Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha; Speaker Tim Armstead; Joe Canestraro, D-Marshall; Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell; and Tom Fast, R-Fayette.

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