CHARLESTON — Crowded jails, jail debt and other problems in West Virginia lockups will be on the minds of lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session, majority leaders say.
West Virginia’s 10 jails have been over capacity each day since at least Dec. 1, and at least 10 counties were more than 90 days past due on more than $1,000 in jail bills last month, according to state data.
“The county jail bill situation is a noose around the neck of every county in West Virginia,” House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said during the West Virginia Press Association’s Legislative Lookahead. “We have to do something about it. We have a growing number of counties that are in arrears, that are actually in default to the state of West Virginia on their county jail bills, including mine.”
As of Jan. 15, Clay County owed the state $1.2 million the third-highest debt in West Virginia. Webster County owed $2.7 million and Lincoln County owed $1.8 million.
West Virginia’s 55 counties are charged $48.25 daily for each inmate from their counties. That rate is set to expire July 1. Officials estimate the actual daily cost of incarceration at $54.88 per inmate.
As of Thursday afternoon, there were 5,761 people held in the regional jails, according to a COVID-19 report the Division of Corrections filed with the state Department of Health and Human Resources. The jails are equipped with 4,265 beds.
In addition to the jail bills, the $177.5 million bond sale the state made in 1990 and refinanced in 1998 to pay for the construction of the 10-facility regional jail system matures July 1. West Virginia makes $8.9 million in payments each year on the bond.
State law originally required that court fees be used to pay off the bond, but those have fallen short every year since 2006, a total of $23.4 million, Homeland Security spokesman Lawrence Messina said. Last year, the fees were short by $3.6 million.
The Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation has tapped into internal revenue sources, including proceeds from jail commissaries, where inmates purchase snacks, drinks and other provisions, Messina said.
None of the per diem incarceration rates paid by the counties goes toward the jail bond payments.
How money from court fees will be allocated once the bonds are paid off is unclear.
Messina said, “options remain under discussion” on behalf of Homeland Security.
Plans for the per-diem rate and addressing other jail issues haven’t been finalized, state Senate spokeswoman Jacque Bland said.
There are other concerns, as well.
More than $203 million in repair and maintenance work is needed throughout all facilities operated by the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Those include jails, prisons, juvenile corrections and other facilities, Messina said Thursday.
“We know we have jail maintenance issues,” Hanshaw said Wednesday. “[Homeland Security] Secretary [Jeff] Sandy has come to us before with proposals for just preventative maintenance, not even substantial renovations, but just preventative maintenance that we’ve deferred on the regional jail system.”
The Legislature is scheduled to convene for its 2021 regular session on Feb. 10.
Reach Lacie Pierson at email@example.com, 304-348-1723 or follow @laciepierson on Twitter.