(06/24/2006)
By Bob Weaver

West Virginia taxpayers are paying through the nose to lock up more and more people in their regional jails and prison system.

The state has one of the fastest growing prison populations in the USA, ranking third, and prisons are rapidly becoming one of the state's biggest industries.

This week, Fayette County commissioners plan to stop paying part of their regional jail bill.

Fayette Commission President Matt Wender says a Cabell County judge's ruling declaring the fee system unfair should also apply to Fayette County.

The withholding will go into an escrow account, in case the county is made to pay up.

Cabell County Circuit Judge David Pancake ruled in April that the jail authority uses an unfair system to calculate the daily fee.

The fee is based on operations costs divided by bed capacity. Cabell County argued that the fee should be based on the number of inmates instead because regional jails are often overcrowded.

Fayette County paid $80,000 in jail fees in May.

WV has one of the fastest growing prison populations in the USA, ranking third.

Politicians and community leaders opposed to increasing the number of non-violent crimes for lock up are generally attacked for being soft on crime.

National studies declare WV is among the "safest" in the USA.

It has a consistent decline in actual population - nonetheless, locks up more and more citizens, mostly for non-violent crimes.

Between 1993 and and 2005, WVs lock-up numbers increased from 2,110 inmates to 5,312.

Did more people become more criminal in WV, with its declining population?

While violent offenders should be locked up, the number of violent offenders between 1998 and 2004 actually dropped.

There were more lock-ups for drug offenses, burglary and property crimes. In 2004, seven in 10 inmates were non-violent offenders.

The Department of Corrections says it costs $24,000 a year to house a prisoner, but that cost does not include the construction and debt load costs of building more and more jails.

It would likely be astounding to know the actual costs of housing a prisoner a day.

The cost of a day in jail, even if the fine is $5, will go yo $165 in nearly all of WV starting July 31.


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