- In 1993 WV had 2,110 inmates, the total now projected to reach 7,000 by 2,014. West Virginians becoming three times more criminal? The answer. Absolutely not.

- WV is locking up more non-violent offenders, creating a jail house industry that is becoming a cash-wrenching drain on taxpayers.

- Now WV is wanting to spend about $200 million to add more jail cells, when the crime rates in West Virginia are rather favorable.

By Bob Weaver

While the cost of housing prisoners in the state's regional jails is causing major budget problems for counties, plans are underway to start a regional effort to offer alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders.

Housing prisoners is a growth industry in West Virginia, although crime statistics indicate the state has one of the lowest criminal rates in the nation.

Shari Johnson, a Calhoun magistrate clerk, says the plan will help counties save money on regional jail bills.

Johnson, who has been supported in the effort by the Calhoun Commission, says the Central Alternative Sentencing Solution will cut costs.

Johnson presented the plan to the Roane County Commission this week, saying she was also trying to get Clay, Gilmer and Wirt counties to join in the program.

A regional effort would be eligible for funding from the state Division of Criminal Justice.

Counties would also be asked to contribute at least $15,000 annually to the program.

Offenders sentenced through CASS would be placed on home confinement and pay a $60 monthly fee for mandatory participation of three months to a year.

During that time, offenders would receive professional services including employment and substance abuse counseling.

Johnson told the Roane Commission that using the program in place of four one-year jail sentences would result in savings of approximately $70,000 for a county.

She said a similar program in Mercer County was already in place.

It costs counties $48.50 per inmate per day to keep prisoners in regional jails.

Vivian Parsons, executive director of the County Commission Association of West Virginia, wants the state to consider raising the tax on alcohol to help defray the costs.

Meanwhile, at least two state groups are opposed to the state's plane to build another new prison.

A report from the West Virginia Council of Churches and the Appalachian Institute at Wheeling Jesuit University was released Monday, titled "Momentum for Positive Change: 'No' to New Prisons, 'Yes' to Continuing Reform of West Virginia's Reform System."

The Reverend Dennis Sparks says everyone who commits a crime should not be thrown behind bars.

"We're teaching people how to be criminals in our prison system instead of helping them become part of our society," he said.

Sparks says other options, for some people charged with less violent crimes, are working. He cites the day reporting centers.

"We need to head this off at that pass," says Reverend Sparks.

The state Supreme Court is hearing arguments this week in a case that could define how the Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority sets regional jail fees.

At issue is the $48.50 daily fee the jail authority charges counties for each inmate housed in the state's regional jails.

The Cabell County Commission balked at paying the higher fee, up from $45 a day, in February 2004.

The authority is appealing an April 2006 ruling by Cabell County Circuit Judge David Pancake that said the agency had improperly raised its per diem fee without a quorum of voting members.

Pancake also said the authority used an unfair system to calculate the fee.

The jail authority estimates Cabell County now owes more than $1.7 million dollars in fees.

Other counties like Fayette and Mingo county also voted to stop paying a higher rate.