West Virginia counties suffering from the financial crunch of the state's regional jail costs, are looking for ways to save money for housing inmates.

Representatives of the state County Commissioners Association and the state Association of Counties told lawmakers their top priority in the upcoming January legislative session is to find ways to keep people out of jail, or find other ways to fund the bill.

Patti Hamilton, executive director of the Association of Counties said that magistrates need more ability to send people to day reporting centers.

She also said the arresting agency should pay for the first 24 hours in jail, noting that county commissions pick up the tab for municipal arrests and arrests made by the State Police.

Hamilton said officers need to be reminded to "put people in jail who are dangerous."

In Cabell County, the state's second largest county, eighty percent of the daily arrests in the county are made by State Police, Huntington police or Marshall University police. Another five percent come from other municipalities.

Some county jail bills are now running in the millions of dollars.

Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood, suggested mandatory public recognizance bonds for all misdemeanor cases. That would mean those charged with misdemeanors after magistrates have gone home would simply be released after filling out the paperwork.

Vivian Parsons, executive director of the County Commissioners Association, suggested an increase on beer taxes. "That tax would raise an additional $7 million, while the counties are paying about $40 million annually to keep the jail system operating," she said.

Hamilton said a bigger problem is placing people in jail who don't need to be there.

She pointed to large numbers of people jailed for having a suspended or revoked driver's license, many of which occur because of unpaid tickets.

Parsons said "Jails are starting to look like debtors' prisons."

The state Division of Juvenile Services has found it can save money using day reporting centers for some of those under age 18 ruled to be delinquent.

West Virginia continues lock-up more prisoners, while quoting statistics that crime is down.