Brooke County's pretrial release program has drastically cut jail costs over the past few years, and on Tuesday, the West Virginia Senate passed a bill that would institute the local program in counties across the state.
The bill, which passed unanimously, would authorize counties to create supervised release programs for regional jail inmates awaiting trial, with the goal of reducing county costs and inmate overcrowding.
A committee comprised of a county sheriff, prosecutor, commissioner, executive director of a community corrections program and defense attorney would select eligible candidates from pretrial inmates.
Those committees would meet once a week and select primarily from first-time and non-violent offenders.
"It's incumbent upon the committee to do a proper job of screening and supervising the defendants," said the bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Samuel Cann, D-Clarksburg. "Like any program, it's only as good as those who run it."
Among the bills co-sponsors are Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Glen Dale, and Sen. Rocky Fitzsimmons, D-Wheeling.
Brooke County was among five counties that implemented such pilot programs in 2009, but it is the only one that has experienced sustained success in reducing the number of inmates and, subsequently, the overall jail cost to the county.
The year before instituting the program, Brooke County housed between 33 and 41 inmates at the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville daily.
That number is now down to between seven and 10, according to Chief Probation Officer Jim Lee. Additionally, the annual cost to house those inmates has dropped from $527,500 in 2008-09 to $278,745 in 2011-12.
Lee developed the concept of the county's pretrial release program, and said other counties may not be seeing similar results because of a refusal to consider felony suspects, even though the inmates may be accused of non-violent crimes.