The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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March 7, 2013

Jail Authority has $24 million surplus; Laird a ‘bit concerned’

With counties struggling to pay charges, their scrutiny is justified, senator says

CHARLESTON — A Fayette County legislator voiced concern Wednesday that the Regional Jail Authority has erected a massive surplus at a time county commissions are struggling to pay bills to keep inmates locked up.

A four-time sheriff, Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, recently learned from Authority Director Joe DeLong that his agency has amassed a $24 million surplus.

“We’re a little bit concerned in hearing about the accumulated surplus they appear to have in their regional jails,” Laird said Wednesday.

“Obviously, if the regional jails are accumulating a surplus, the per diem is generating more revenue than the cost of operations, which would be some real concern to local units of government.”

Counties shell out $48.50 per day to house each inmate, and some are fighting to stay above water.

This week, Raleigh County Commission President Dave Tolliver said the cost of housing inmates the past five years at Southern Regional has cost taxpayers almost $12 million.

If the jail authority has money in hand, Laird said, perhaps the time has come to consider lowering the per diem rate.

“I think that’s something that should be looked at very carefully,” he said.

“They aren’t there to generate surpluses or make money. The per diem is intended to offset the costs of their operation.”

Laird said the cost in his home county has shot up by some $200,000 already over 2012.

“That’s a big concern for a lot of counties,” the senator said.

Laird, in the meantime, is moving a bill that would hopefully ease some of the congestion in the 10-jail system.

The proposal, approved a year ago by the House of Delegates, would provide extra good time credit for inmates who choose to enroll and complete certain treatment programs at regional jails.

“These good time opportunities were made applicable to those persons having been sentenced to more than six months in regional jails,” Laird said.

“It was discovered, though, there were 319 persons in regional jails at the time they were surveyed, who are serving a flat six months, not six months and a day. Due to the fact it’s a flat, six-month sentence, as opposed to six months and a day, they’re not eligible to participate in the program.”

Laird’s bill would cover inmates in for at least six months, not just an extended term, to participate in such programs as anger management, substance abuse, domestic violence, life skills, parenting and alcohol abuse.

“They’re good solid treatment programs,” he said.

“It’s just a way to encourage people to participate and enroll in these programs.”

Laird said the measure potentially could save counties a combined $435,000 annually in inmate costs, provided the inmates take advantage of the programs.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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