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 In not-so-obvious way, consolidated correctional system keeping WV safer

3/28/2019

March 28, 2019

In not-so-obvious way, consolidated correctional system keeping W.Va. safer

 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Arresting criminal suspects can be daunting enough. But for law enforcement in some parts of West Virginia, taking them to jail has presented its own challenges. The recent unifying of the state’s correctional agencies is changing that for the better.

 

There are only 10 jails in West Virginia. That has resulted in lengthy transports of arrestees: law enforcement in Monongalia, Marion and Wood counties have had to drive to Doddridge County and back, for instance; their colleagues in Fayette, Greenbrier and Monroe face a Raleigh County round trip.

 

Legislation signed by Gov. Jim Justice last year allows the new state Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation to establish holding cells as dropping-off points for law enforcement. Three have opened so far: in Parkersburg; at the Saint Marys Correctional Center in Pleasants County; and at the Mount Olive Correctional Complex in Fayette County.

 

“Being able to transport prisoners to the Wood County Holding Center in Parkersburg has greatly improved our ability to get our officers back on patrol,” said Wirt County Chief Deputy G.M. Deem. “The 20-minute drive to Parkersburg is far better than the two-hour round trip to the North Central Regional Jail.”

 

Just those three holding facilities have saved law enforcement an estimated 1,300 man-hours and 80,000 vehicle miles between July 1, when the law took effect, and early March. Together, they have allowed 17 law enforcement agencies to drop off more than 1,100 arrestees.

 

“Those are staggering numbers. The Police Department is appreciative of the new system,” said Parkersburg Police Chief Joseph Martin. “This has financially benefited my agency.”

 

The resulting savings to taxpayers is estimated at $75,000 and counting in personnel and vehicle wear-and-tear costs. And county and local law enforcement aren’t the only beneficiaries.

 

“The Saint Marys Center has helped our troopers from having to travel an hour and 45 minutes out of their shift to take a prisoner to Doddridge County and the North Central Regional Jail,” said State Police Capt. C. A. Light. “This has enabled the trooper to be available to the public when he would have been driving. In a small county such as Pleasants, the availability of officers on duty is usually one trooper and one deputy. This allows an officer to be more available.”

 

The Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which is part of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, expects to open additional holding cells soon at the Huttonsville Correctional Center in Randolph County and the Lakin Correctional Center in Mason County.

 

Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy noted that the counties and municipalities will save an additional $5.2 million a year through the correctional consolidation, starting July 1. That is when the state will take over the cost of housing inmates in jails starting the day after conviction. The cost switchover has been much later, following sentencing.

 

“The Justice administration developed the holding center program to keep our state’s law enforcement on the road to protect our citizens. The Justice administration also took the lead to help West Virginia counties with their increasing regional jail costs in multiple strategic moves,” Sandy said. “The consolidation of prisons and jails has eliminated duplicated duties, such has transportation of inmates, training, vehicles, and even uniforms. The holding center program will continue to grow over the next two years along with other consolidated efforts.”

 

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