SUPREME COURT SAYS COUNTIES MUST PAY JAIL BILL - Justice Starcher Issues Scathing "Anti-Democratic" Warning

The West Virginia Supreme Court says the state Regional Jail Authority has the power to set per diem rates county's have to pay for inmates.

The jail bills have the potential to bankrupt WV counties.

But at the same time, the court has suggested the legislature needs to come up with a better way of funding regional jails, indicating it has become a crippling way for counties to foot the bill.

A lower court judge originally ruled the Cabell County Commission didn't have to pay the $48.50 per diem rate originally approved in 2004 by the Regional Jail Authority.

Cabell, Kanawha and several other counties had been withholding payment of their multi-million dollar jail bills.

Now, they must pay up.

The opinion also says "We take judicial notice of the fact that escalating regional jail costs have effectively crippled the counties of this state with regard to their respective budgetary decisions."

Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher issued a stinging concurring opinion in the case, writing the Regional Jail Authority is an example of an anti-Democratic trend in America.

"These "Authorities" can become laws unto themselves, orchestrating multi-million-dollar deals that benefit powerful political forces - but effectively outside the control of local and state elected officials, and ultimately, the voters," wrote Starcher.

Starcher said the only "right" county commissions have is the "right" to pay up.

"Everyone recognizes the present method of funding is not working," said Ansel Ramey, who represented Cabell County.

"I think ultimately everybody can be a winner if the legislature takes a serious look at this," Ramey said.

Current law requires county commissions to pay per diem costs even if city police departments have apprehended those arrested.

Ramey says more than two-thirds of the inmates in the Western Regional Jail were arrested by municipal police, but cities share no burden in the per diem bill.

Ramey pointed out there are state inmates who should be housed in state prisons, but there's no room, saying they are crowded into the regional jail system.

Despite statistics that WV has a low crime rate, it is locking up more and more people.