BUCKHANNON – As West Virginia continues to grapple with the addiction crisis, Upshur County is facing a trend of increasing regional jail bills.
In fact, the county’s fiscal year 2019 regional jail bill is on track to be the highest in the past five fiscal years – and possibly ever.
According to documents provided by county administrator Carrie Wallace, Upshur County has seen an uptick in its regional jail bill since fiscal year 2014-2015, with the exception of fiscal year 2018, which declined to $711,977. Looking back, the bill for fiscal year 2015, the bill was $477,433, but had increased to $609,108 in fiscal year 2016. Then, in fiscal year 2017, the bill jumped to $817,837.
Fiscal years begin July 1 and end June 30 of the following year, meaning fiscal year 2019 began July 1, 2018 and will end June 30, 2019.
And although the county saw a reduction in 2018’s bill compared to 2017’s, fiscal year 2019 is on track to be the highest regional jail bill in the last five years.
County officials budgeted $800,000 for the regional jail costs; however, if the trend continues, fiscal year 2019 is projected to cost roughly $894,429. If the current trend holds through June, the bill would nearly double what the county spent in 2015, according to information provided by Wallace.
In the current fiscal year, documents indicate the county is spending an average of $74,133 a month on jail costs.
“This year is looking pretty rough,” commissioner Sam Nolte told My Buckhannon. “We had budgeted $800,000, but we’re tracking right now, just according to our statistics and our average jail bill, we’re tracking for ($894,429) right now.”
At the time of budgeting, Nolte said he felt secure budgeting $800,000 for jail costs considering the decline in the bill for FY 2018.
With the fluctuating totals over the years, Nolte said future costs are difficult to predict.
“It’s pretty much been trending up with the exception of 2018 and that was, if you fast forward like from 2015, or let’s say hypothetically we finish this year out, and follow these same trends, you’re looking at a $400,000 increase in four years, which is pretty substantial,” he said.
But what could be the reasoning behind the rise in jail costs?
“I think a lot of it has to do with the drug epidemic,” said Nolte. “When you look at some of the cases that come through … domestics or assaults or those type of things, a lot of times, the underlying issue is drugs that cause these people to have those sort of behaviors.”
Over the years, county officials have utilized community corrections and drug court as a way to reduce costs.
“The judges put folks on house arrests when that is a possibility,” Nolte said. “The judicial staff and the prosecutor’s office and the magistrate do a terrific job in trying to keep the jail bill under control by utilizing those services to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, you have to be careful who you put on house arrest because you don’t want to set someone up for failure or put someone else in danger.”
The Community Corrections programs lessens the amount of tax dollars it costs to house nonviolent offenders, while also encouraging them to be productive citizens.
“Community Corrections follows the theory that by addressing the underlying causes of criminal activity, recidivism will be reduced, leading to long-term change in the offender and cost savings to our counties,” according to the county website.
Nolte said a lot of the times people who have been incarcerated have a higher chance of returning to jail.
“So, the more you can do to try to help them overcome whatever they’re battling, the odds are, they won’t go back to jail,” he said.
County officials and those involved in the county judicial system are utilizing resources available and doing the best they possibly can to lower costs, Nolte said.
“Everybody understands that this isn’t just an Upshur County issue,” he said. “It’s pretty much a statewide issue with the jail bills, and a lot of that comes down to we have the opioid issue and that led to other drugs with meth and heroin and people just made bad decisions.”