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Inmates in W.Va. to start paying

March 22, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Inmates in West Virginia jails will begin paying a $20 fee every time they are locked up, according to a new law passed by the state legislature.

The head of the state's Regional Jail Authority, however, said the increased revenues could not be used to convert the Eastern Regional Jail near Martinsburg into a juvenile detention center.

The law will require inmates to pay a processing fee whenever they enter one of the state's regional jails, said Steve Canterbury, executive director for the Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority in Charleston, W.Va.

"The money will either be taken from whatever cash the inmate has on hand or from the inmate's commissary fund," said Canterbury.

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With about 28,000 people entering regional jails last year, Canterbury said the processing fee should raise an estimated $500,000 to be used for operational costs.

The fee, said Canterbury, will allow the state to freeze the amount of money it charges counties for inmates.

West Virginia counties currently pay the state $39.50 daily to house inmates, he said.

"That money will be used strictly for operations. We can't mix those funds with construction," said Canterbury.

The jail board is expected to meet next month to discuss the results of a $9,500 feasibility study for converting the Eastern Regional Jail into a juvenile facility once the new jail opens this year.

"It's highly unlikely we could do the conversion," Canterbury said. "It would just be too costly."

Estimates of costs to convert the old jail now hover between $3 million and $4 million, he said.

"That would be a major expense with no dedicated source of revenue," Canterbury said. "I'm not sure we would be able to meet federal guidelines even if we had the money."

Construction guidelines are stricter for juvenile facilities than ones that house adults.

More viable uses for the old jail include making it an incarceration and treatment center for drug and alcohol offenders or turning it over to the state's Division of Corrections, he said.

A final decision is expected by May, Canterbury said.

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