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W.Va. jail system targeting unpaid criminal fines with new Supreme Court agreement


March 16, 2017

W.Va. jail system targeting unpaid criminal fines with new Supreme Court agreement

CHARLESTON, 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 jails.

 “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 payments.

 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 last year.

 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.”

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LAWRENCE MESSINA (304) 558-2930 Lawrence.C.Messina@wv.gov