When West Virginia's Regional Jail Authority asked Gov. Cecil Underwood to authorize construction of a 1,200-inmate medium-security facility on Monday, the governor said he was considering the possibility that a private company might do a better job of housing state inmates. We agree that it's time to think about going another way.
We say that for several reasons. The jail authority's estimate for construction of the new prison is $50 to $70 million. That's about half the money set aside for prison and jail construction in the entire state in 1997, especially when authority officials expect it to be so overcrowded in 10 years that they'll have to start double-bunking inmates.
Frankly, we have little faith in this agency's ability. In 1989, just six years after the Eastern Regional Jail was built in Berkeley County, the authority announced it was obsolete and couldn't be expanded to handle a growing inmate population. This past February, as it prepared prison cost estimates for the legislature, the authority revealed that some estimates had doubled in a year's time and that millions more would be needed to complete the construction program.