The Times West Virginian

January 25, 2009

Alternative sentencing becoming more common

By Paul Fallon

FAIRMONT — Like many expenses, the cost of housing inmates in jails and prisons around the country is increasing.

Along with the increasing costs, inmate populations are also on the rise, and that is leaving governments on the federal, state and local levels looking for ways to cut down on the costs of housing criminals. To combat that, different forms of alternative sentencing have been thrust to the forefront.

Alternative sentencing can come in forms such as home confinement or community service and is normally reserved for non-violent offenders. The idea of the programs is to keep the offender out of jail, which reduces the fees paid by the state and counties.

Alternative sentencing programs also serve to reduce the prison and jail population, which is expanding in the Mountain State. The programs also help rehabilitate the offender in a setting other than in prison, where they sometimes learn other criminal behavior, said Marion County Circuit Court Judge Fred Fox.

Fox and others will be meeting Monday to discuss setting up an alternative sentencing program for county offenders. Fox, along with Marion County Sheriff Joe Carpenter and Preston County Circuit Court Judge Lawrance S. Miller Jr. will explore opening a day-report center.

If opened, the center would serve both Marion and Preston counties. A day-report center is an alternative-sentencing program where released inmates, or offenders who have been referred into the program by a judge, report to an agency to receive intensive monitoring and counseling.

“A day-report center would really benefit Marion County,” Fox said. “One of the biggest problems the courts and states have is that we don’t have enough space in the facilities to place offenders.”

Fox said he believed a day-report center would save the county money by keeping people out of the regional jail. The county must pay a fee to house inmates in the North Central Regional Jail. Regional jail fees were recently raised to $48.25 per day from the previous fee of $47.53. During the 2008-09 fiscal year, county commissioners budgeted $1.2 million to pay for regional jail fees, according to a document provided by Kris Cinalli, county administrator.

“And a day-report center is more productive,” Fox said. “If you put someone in prison, they often are educated in criminality.”

Fox pointed out that some offenders would not be appropriate for a day-report center. These would be offenders who had been convicted of a violent crime or had a history of violence. Offenders of this nature would instead be sent to a facility such as a jail.

“But a day-report center would benefit a lot of non-violent offenders,” Fox said.

E-mail Paul Fallon at pfallon@timeswv.com.