Mon County takes steps to reduce jail bill

MORGANTOWN — Over the last several months, public servants across Monongalia County have taken steps to reduce the jail bill, which is over $1.5 million so far this year.

Monongalia County Circuit Judge Russell Clawges said the county’s jail bill has been an issue since the closure of the county jail after North Central Regional Jail opened.

The county spends $48.25 a day per inmate housed at NCRJ, Rennetta McClure, county administrator, said. From fiscal years 2012-2017, Mon County spent $10,281,855.30 and almost $1.6 million so far in 2018, she said. The highest individual year was 2016 where the bill reached over $2 million.

County Commission President Tom Bloom said the county is responsible for the costs of housing prisoners until they are sentenced — which can be months after a conviction.

He said county commissioners statewide are trying to get legislation passed that would pass the bill on to the state after conviction.

“That would save counties enormous amounts,” he said.

Bloom said Clawges deserves the credit for calling everyone together to come up with ways to help manage the bill. Everyone includes the circuit court represented by Clawges, magistrate court represented by Hershel Mullins, Sheriff Perry Palmer, McClure, the county commission and the prosecutor’s office.

A meeting was held where several plans were identified and put into action.

One change involves the times that arraignments are held. Every person must be arraigned following an arrest and state code only allows prisoners to be kept in the sheriff’s holding facilities for 12 hours, Palmer said.

Magistrate Court now holds arraignments at 8 a.m. each day, removing the need for the midnight trip to the jail, in most cases Palmer said. Those who are combative or wanted on a warrant are still transported.

The sheriff’s department still makes two trips a day to the jail in the morning and afternoon. Palmer said the new system is working well so far.

Clawges credits the magistrates for being willing to be flexible with their scheduling and trying new things.

The county’s judicial officials are also doing their part by trying to reduce the number of people held in jail.

Clawges explained that all defendants are constitutionally required to reasonable bond and that there is now a focus on making sure bail is set at a reasonable amount.

What’s reasonable varies greatly from person to person, Clawges explained.

“For some people, $100 is not a reasonable bond,” he said. “It’s a matter of setting reasonable bond and letting people make bond.”

The reason for bond is two-fold — ensuring the defendant shows up to his hearing and consideration of public safety. Each case has to be examined individually to determine what is reasonable, he said.

Circuit court judges are also trying to make sure that cases involving people in jail prior to their trial are fast tracked, but there is only so much that be done due to court rules — such as the six-weeks notice required before a criminal hearing, Clawges said.

Clawges said he knows the county will always have a jail bill, but he wanted to see what could be done to help keep it controlled.

“Every $50 not sent to the regional jail is $50 for the county,” Clawges said. “You do what you can do.”

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