The Times West Virginian

October 14, 2012

Use of renovated jail allows county to address financial and security issues

Times West Virginian

— It takes one hour and eight minutes to drive to the North Central Regional Jail in Doddridge County — a 70-mile trip.

That’s a one-way trip. That doesn’t account for traffic, inclement weather or poor road conditions.

Those who have been placed under arrest in the county, for even minor crimes, make that 70-mile trip with sheriff transport officers. The arrested are processed, and the deputies make the long trip home.

Several hours are consumed. Gallons of gasoline are used for each and every trip. And transport vehicles suffer the wear and tear on tires, engines and brakes from the repeated trip.

In addition to the costs associated with the trips back and forth to Doddridge County, it’s an issue of man hours. The transportation of the suspects keeps officers out of the county more than they’re in it.

The Marion County Commission and the Marion County Sheriff’s Department are hoping to solve this issue and more by keeping suspects in the county longer, making use of the renovated jail in town and reassigning two more deputies to the courthouse.

It’s been more than 10 years that the regional jail system forced counties to abandon their their local jails and transport all suspects to regional facilities — in Marion County’s case, Doddridge County. Of course, it saved the money it took the individual counties to keep up and staff a jail, but transportation has always been an issue. It’s an issue, especially, when a suspect can be processed and post bond within the six hours mandated by State Code that allows them to be kept in a holding facility.

If the county is successful in making this change — a soft “launch” will test whether keeping minor offenders in the jail until they post bond is workable — the money savings can be diverted toward a major issue: Courthouse security.

An incident this summer underlined the crucial need for a better security system in place for the courthouse. A man frustrated with the system walked across the street to a discount store, purchased a fake gun and badge and exclaimed there was a “new sheriff in town” while waving the toy about. We know it was a toy, but what if it wasn’t?

The best option is to step up security, and these cost-savings measures are going to allow that to happen. Not only will there be two extra deputies staffing the courthouse, but some of the courthouse doors will also be permanently locked down to guests — with the exception of a few doors — to accommodate safety. Additional surveillance cameras at the courthouse will also be installed.

“The presence of (deputies) in the hallways along with the two additional deputies will accomplish what we’ve been trying to do to beef up the security, so everyone has a comfort level that doesn’t seem to be there now,” commissioner Randy Elliott explained.

The county has made a series of good decisions. Renovating the 16-cell jail with in-house labor and funds over time has made these changes possible. And if these adjustments to day-to-day work of the sheriff’s department work, the courthouse will certainly benefit from the increased security.

We applaud the commission for having the foresight to fix two problems with one move.