jail system targeting unpaid criminal fines with new Supreme Court agreement
W.Va. – West Virginia’s regional jail system will help make sure
that criminal offenders pay their court-ordered fines and fees, through a new
information-sharing agreement with the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
The agreement allows the West Virginia
Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority to check whether newly booked
inmates owe magistrate court costs. For inmates with amounts outstanding, a
jail can withhold money in their possession to address these debts. The jails can
also take up to one-half of all funds deposited in an inmate’s commissary
account. The courts will then distribute the recovered money to the various
special funds that rely on these fines and fees.
Court-ordered assessments play important
roles in West Virginia’s public safety system. They fund security measures at
and improvements to the counties’ courthouse facilities. They partially reimburse
counties and municipalities for the per-day cost of jailing inmates. They also help
pay off the bonds that financed the construction of the state’s 10 regional
“The W.Va. Regional Jail Authority is
happy to assist in the process of the collection of outstanding court fees that
will benefit all receiving entities,” said Director David Farmer of the
Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority, which is part of the
Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.
The regional jails seek to improve the
collection rate because revenues from court-related fines, fees and other assessments
have eroded dramatically over the last decade.
The portion that pays off the jail
construction bonds plummeted by $4.1 million, or more than one-third, from $11
million to $6.9 million between 2006 and last year. As a result, these revenues
have failed to cover the required $8.9 million annual bond payments since 2007.
The regional jails must increasingly divert other revenues to make the
The fund that reimburses counties for
their jail costs, meanwhile, has shrunk by a similar margin. Also relying on
court assessments, it provided more than $4.1 million to counties to offset
their jail bills in 2007 but was only able to refund $2.8 million to counties
Farmer and Regional Jail officials worked
alongside Cabinet Secretary Jeff Sandy and his leadership team to develop the
agreement with Administrative Office of the Courts Director Gary L. Johnson.
“This agreement means more than the public
can imagine for the West Virginia Regional Jails and the 55 West Virginia counties
that fund them,” said Secretary Sandy. “The
agreement comes at a time when the regional jails are currently owed more than $4.3
million from several West Virginia counties. This agreement was several years
in the making.”
The alternative revenues diverted to keep
bond payments current do not include the per-day fees for housing inmate, as
state law prohibits their use for that purpose. Regional jails also receive no
funding from the state’s general tax revenue budget.
“We are happy to give the West Virginia
Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority access to outstanding
magistrate court fees,” said Administrative Director Johnson. “With the
development of computerized systems throughout each branch of government, I see
many more information sharing projects in the state’s future. I believe this
agreement will help alleviate the financial burden placed on regional jails and
the counties who use them.”