Soaring regional jail bills are pushing many West Virginia counties, large and small, toward financial crisis. Tim McCormick, President of the Ohio County Commission, told a legislative panel this week "The greatest fiscal issue Ohio County faces is the regional jail system."

When the county operated its own jail the costs were $400,000. Now the regional jail bill has risen to $1.2 million.

Calhoun County has dutifully paid on its bill, which has ranged from $60,000 to over $100,000, but has never been able to completely catch up. The Commission, when it has obtained "extra money", has always paid on the debt.

In Ohio County, the City of Wheeling has the majority of arrests (70%), but the county pays the bill, said McCormick. He wants to make the arresting agency responsible for the payment.

Steve Canterbury, Director of the regional jail system, contends the $45 a day charge is a bargain, but other fiscal agents say the actual costs are many times that figure if construction costs and debt load are included.

Oshel Craigo says counties should quit complaining. "The counties have zero debt service, zero liability, and no inmate health and transportation costs." A meeting was held in Grantsville last week to discuss a new community corrections program which is currently saving Brooke, Hancock and Harrison Counties more than $630,000 annually. Jim Lees, who is overseeing the pilot work program, was to have been at the meeting, but could not attend.

Local judicial and corrections officials attended, in addition to members of the Calhoun Commission.

Lees is asking the legislature to invest $1 million in the alternative sentencing program, which he says is a great success.

Hur Herald from Sunny Cal
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