Friday, September 22, 2023

INTERIM REPORT: Regional Jails and Correctional Facilities

Lawmakers and members of the judicial branch continued to discuss solutions for bail and reporting requirements during Monday’s meeting of the Oversight Commission on Regional Jail and Correctional Facilities.

During last month’s special session, lawmakers couldn’t reach consensus on a bill that that would have changed bail procedures in the state and added reporting requirements meant to limit the number of people being held in jails without a conviction. Lawmakers continued deliberations Monday with those that work on both sentencing and bail procedures.

The bill proposed in the special session would have added reporting requirements for prosecutors and the Supreme Court. The legislation would have altered how arrested individuals could post bail, adding in stipulations for using bail bondsmen and property transfers and liens instead of judges only allowing cash payments.

Under the legislation, county prosecutors would have been required to file bimonthly reports to their county commissions listing each person currently held in custody without a conviction for longer than 10 days, as well as compelling reasons for why they were being held.

Some counties already follow these reporting requirements voluntarily while others don’t, creating a hodgepodge of inconclusive data that makes it difficult to understand why so many people are being held without convictions.

Kanawha County Public Defender Ronni Sheets told lawmakers that codifying reporting requirements would alleviate the lack of consistent data and in turn, decrease the jail population, ultimately saving counties millions of dollars.

Sheets told lawmakers that as of Sept. 11, 2023, there were 500 people being held in jails across the state who are accused of committing misdemeanors but who have not been convicted by a court. For perspective, Sheets said only about 250 people incarcerated in the state are serving a sentence due to a misdemeanor charge.

Sheets urged lawmakers to remember that while the cost to taxpayers to keep those charged with misdemeanors in jail is high (roughly $54 a night), the human cost can be higher, as these people can lose jobs, homes and custody of their children.

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