Blog Posts > New Brief Highlights Explosive Growth of Jail Incarceration in West Virginia and Counties’ Difficulty Paying Their Regional Jail Bills
January 6, 2021

New Brief Highlights Explosive Growth of Jail Incarceration in West Virginia and Counties’ Difficulty Paying Their Regional Jail Bills

For Immediate Release: January 06, 2021
Contact: Renee Alves, 559-916-5939

Charleston, WV – Between 2000 and 2019, West Virginia’s jail population increased by a staggering 81 percent, from approximately 2,853 inmates to 5,172, even as the state’s population shrunk in the same period. This follows the longer trend of mass incarceration in West Virginia and the United States as a whole. West Virginia state and local governments spent $195 per capita on corrections in 2017, up 387.5 percent from $40 per capita in 1977. As counties look for ways to pay for needed investments in public services that could aid residents and businesses amid the ongoing pandemic, there are few discussions about reducing the jail population despite the rising costs of jail incarceration and some counties’ inability to pay their regional jail bills. 

Our newest issue brief, Overcrowded and Overburdened: West Virginia Counties Struggle to Pay Regional Jail Bills, highlights the explosive growth of West Virginia’s regional jail system — which is primarily used to detain pre-trial defendants yet to be convicted of any crime — despite recent bail reform, as well as the financial impact this is having on the counties responsible for paying for the rising costs of this growth.

“County spending on jails is rising, with county payments to the Regional Jail Authority increasing from $52 million in 2014 to $52.2 million in 2019, an increase of 0.3 percent,” says Quenton King, brief author and criminal justice policy analyst at WVCBP. “Yet over the same period, jail billing has risen almost seven times faster, growing from $50.1 million in 2014 to $53.3 million in 2019, an increase of 7 percent.”

County governments are ultimately responsible for paying the majority of costs associated with incarcerating people in their local jails, and the increase in county jail spending relative to the even larger increase in county jail billing displays the significant and growing gap between the true costs of jail incarceration and counties’ ability to pay. This is propelling a burgeoning jail debt crisis with the potential to cripple county budgets, especially now as the pandemic recession pushes many county budgets into deficit due to falling tax revenues.

Jail debt and inability to pay will continue to plague county budgets unless West Virginia policymakers pursue significant reforms to the county jail system. The following recommendations are ways for counties to reduce their jail bills, particularly by decreasing the number of pretrial detainees, for whom counties must pay daily housing costs:

  • Improve implementation of House Bill 2419 — the personal recognizance (bail reform) bill.
  • Adopt automated court hearing notification service.
  • Increase use of home incarceration. 
  • Reduce arrests for technical violations of probation and parole.
  • Stop using jails for long-term incarceration.
  • Reinvest jail savings in building thriving local communities.

Find the full issue brief and learn more here.

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