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Berkeley County's jailing costs could reach $3.5 million

April 29, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.-Even if every Berkeley County man, woman and child were able to contribute $30 toward the county's bill for incarcerating people this year, it still wouldn't be paid in full.

As of Wednesday, the county's expense for detaining individuals at Eastern Regional Jail and the Vicki Douglas Juvenile Center for the 2006-07 fiscal year was $2,987,648, according to the finance and purchasing division of Berkeley County Clerk John W. Small Jr.'s office.

And the fiscal year doesn't end until June 30, when the final tally is projected by county officials to reach about $3.5 million. The county's budget for the next fiscal year is about $25 million.

Without jail diversion efforts to sentence people to home confinement and community service programs supervised by the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department, the cost to taxpayers would be millions more, according to reports released by Sheriff W. Randy Smith.

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During the 2006 calendar year, $386,690 in jail fees were saved and another $124,686 was collected from the 51 people sentenced to the county's home confinement program, according to a report from Sheriff's Deputy Lt. D.S. Richmond, coordinator of the program.

In a Feb. 22 memo to Smith, Richmond also reported that a total of about $2.1 million in jail fees were saved in 2005 and 2006 because of the agency's community service program.

"We got the potential of putting 100 people in the (home confinement) program," Smith said in an interview last week. "But I can't get the court orders."

Obtaining a court order for home confinement isn't easy when you have a relatively high population of violent offenders, Berkeley County Prosecutor Attorney Pamela J. Games-Neely said.

"Last year was particularly violent for us," Games-Neely said. "Nationwide, this is becoming a problem."

Except for a slight decline in 2001, the number of adults and juveniles in Berkeley County arrested for the crimes of murder, "non-negligent" manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft and arson has continued to increase each year since 2000, according to six years of statistics provided last week by the FBI.

In 2005, police made 576 arrests for violent- and property-related offenses in Berkeley County, up from 410 in 2000, according to data supplied to the FBI by local law enforcement agencies.

As for nonviolent offenders, particularly people arrested on illegal drug charges, Games-Neely and others in the county's judicial system see the potential for developing more community sentencing programs to avoid racking up jail costs, which increase at an incarceration rate of $48.50 per day per prisoner.

On Monday at 4 p.m., a presentation will be given in the Berkeley County Commission meeting room on drug and mental health courts and day-reporting centers established in the Northern Panhandle that appear to be helping combat jail costs there through intense rehabilitation, drug testing and treatment programs.

"The success rate has been pretty astounding ... the numbers are glorious right now," said Steve Canterbury, administrative director for the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

While director of the state's regional jail authority, Canterbury, along with 1st Judicial Circuit Judge Martin J. Gaughan and Jim Lee, the circuit's chief probation officer, helped draft legislation in 2001 that led to the creation of the state's first community corrections program and day-reporting center in the Northern Panhandle.

Canterbury readily admitted that not every participant has the potential to "crash and burn," but still has an opportunity to be a contributor to the community.

"We're locking up everybody we're afraid of, but do we have to lock up everybody we're mad at?" Canterbury said.

Games-Neely was skeptical as to whether there were enough resources available to retain needed staff for launching additional alternative corrections programs, but ideally would prefer a drug court be established first, if possible.

"Almost every crime we touch pretty much has to do with drugs," Games-Neely said.

In 2005, police agencies in Berkeley County reported to the FBI that they made 244 arrests stemming from drug-abuse violations, involving possession, dealing and/or manufacturing. In 2000, that number was 179, according to records.

Games-Neely confirmed that consideration of instituting more programs was put on hold a few years ago, at least in part because of the effort to renovate the former Blue Ridge Outlets complex into the county's new judicial center.

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