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W.Va. officials petition Supreme Court for jail debt relief


Contact: Lawrence Messina
(304) 558-2930

October 23, 2015

W.Va. officials petition Supreme Court for jail debt relief

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Seeking to avoid a threatened increase to the fees that counties must pay for housing their inmates, West Virginia’s regional jail agency is going to court.

A petition filed Thursday, Oct. 22 asks the state Supreme Court to order Webster County to begin addressing its long-past-due, $1.3 million jail bill.

Webster County has failed to pay the amounts it has owed since at least mid-2012, and its past-due debt is roughly equal to that of all the other counties combined.

By contrast, neighboring Nicholas County once had the second-largest amount of unpaid inmate per-diem fees among the counties -- amid well-documented struggles with its budget. But when advised of its debt, Nicholas County promptly negotiated a payment plan with the Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority (RJA).

As a result, Nicholas County is on track to erase its past-due balance by the end of this year. Webster County has so far refused to take a similar route.

“It has always been this agency’s intent to work with the counties to reconcile any outstanding debt they owe,” RJA Director David Farmer said. “We must also fulfill our obligation to the citizens of West Virginia to operate a fiscally sound agency.”

If left unpaid, past-due debts could force an increase to the per-diem fee that all counties pay for the housing of their inmates. RJA receives no funding from the state’s general revenue budget, and instead relies almost entirely on these per-diem fees to operate the system’s 10 jails.

Actively pursuing money-saving measures has helped RJA maintain what is believed to be the lowest per-inmate jail cost in the nation. The current per-diem of $48.25 is actually lower than what counties paid a decade ago.

This threat to the financial stability of RJA and law-abiding counties has prompted the agency to have a hold placed on state-collected revenues that are usually disbursed to Webster County. Thursday’s petition also asks the Supreme Court to direct the Tax Commissioner to forward to the RJA the funds he is currently holding as an off-set against the unpaid jail bill.

The West Virginia Supreme Court has previously ruled that counties must pay their jail bills. Part of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, RJA operates 10 regional jails that together house nearly 4,400 inmates.

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