CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state Division of Corrections hopes to soon cut the number of its prisoners housed in regional jails by half.
That would give inmates access to rehabilitation and treatment services currently unavailable in jails. But it also could create a financial pinch for the state Regional Jail Authority.
Speaking at a legislative interim meeting on Monday, Division of Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein said the state is moving inmates into its new facility in Salem, which will eventually hold 388 prisoners.
The Division of Corrections also is adding 56 beds at the Saint Mary's Correctional Center and 70 new beds for female offenders at the Lakin Correctional Center near Point Pleasant.
Add to that about 400 prisoners who could be moved to out-of-state facilities, if the state picks a contractor to house those inmates.
Two corrections companies, one from Tennessee and another from Texas, have expressed interest in a contract to house West Virginia inmates as part of the voluntary program. Rubenstein said the bidding process opens on Nov. 5, meaning a decision probably will be reached before the end of the year.
Rubenstein said moving inmates out of state would be a temporary fix to the state's overcrowding issues, until provisions of recently passed prison reform legislation begin to take effect.
"This has been discussed and looked at for quite some period of time. I've always looked at it as a temporary solution," he said.
In all, that would cut the number of prison inmates housed in state Regional Jails by about half.
Joe DeLong, executive director of the West Virginia Regional Jails Authority, said there are about 1,800 Division of Corrections inmates in state jails.
Delong said a few hundred of those are awaiting sentencing, but somewhere between 1,400 and 1,600 are "backlogged." As the number of inmates outstripped state prison capacity, the division has had to keep some of its inmates in jails.
The Division of Corrections pays the Regional Jail Authority $48.25 a day for each of those inmates.
Delong said his agency stands to lose as much as $11 million next year as prisoners are moved elsewhere.
He said that should not affect operations much, however.
"We're in a pretty good position, we're going to be able to absorb that," he said. "We feel like we can lose about 600 inmates and continue to do the kinds of things we're doing."
He said most of its jobs are "duty posts," where correctional officers' duties are mostly the same whether they oversee 100 inmates or just 20.
Reductions in inmates have forced the agency to nix plans to reduce its per diem rate, however.
The state Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority Board voted last October to reduce costs by 55 cents per day, lowering per diems from $48.80. Those cuts went into effect July 1 and are expected to save counties and state agencies about $900,000 per year.
Delong indicated in July the authority might reduce costs again, but board members decided against those reductions at a meeting last Thursday.
He said counties could still save money, however, if the number of people going to jail is reduced.
Senate Bill 371, prison reform legislation passed in this year's regular legislative session, gives judges more options for sentencing, including home confinement for nonviolent offenders.