Saturday, March 27, 2010

Pay raises approved in Cabell budget

March 27, 2010 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- The Cabell County Commission unanimously approved the Fiscal Year 2010-2011 budget on Friday which included $500 pay raises for all civilian employees working in the courthouse and $1,000 raises for sheriff's deputies.

Commissioners agreed that the budget was one of the tightest they've have to deal with in recent years but were pleased they were able to give pay raises. The commission said it was also pleased that it was able to find enough money to give the elected officials most of what they asked for.

The cost of the raises for the 144 civilian employees and 40 deputies will be $72,000 and $40,000, respectively.

"I think the commission did as much as it possibly could with the dollars we had available," said Commissioner Nancy Cartmill. "I think what we gave (employees) was a very small pay raise for the county to give their employees, but it does let our employees know that we haven't forgotten them."

Commissioner Bob Bailey said the raises may be small, but they are much needed since the worldwide financial collapse.

"In this economy, when people have lost their jobs and people are really suffering, for us to be able to give a small raise to the deputies and to the civilian employees is good work," Bailey said.

The commissioners said there seemed to be enough money in the budget to warrant the raises.

Commissioner Scott Bias said there are a number of reasons why the deputies received higher raises than the civilian employees. The county has to compete with other counties and law enforcement agencies, such as the Huntington Police Department, who pay much more to their employees than what the deputies working in Cabell County are getting.

"A lot of our employees are underpaid but the deputies are farther underpaid," Bias said.

The reason the commission has money for pay raises is because of a pilot program that aims to cut jail costs by releasing nonviolent offenders before trial.

The pilot program, established by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, requires a full-time person to interview and perform background checks on all Cabell County arrests before trial. The individual reports back to a committee made up of representatives from law enforcement and court officials who will meet at least once a week.

The committee determines if certain non-violent offenders should be put in home confinement, work with the Day Report Center or housed at the Western Regional Jail in Barboursville. The committee makes its recommendations to designated circuit court and magistrate judges.

These judges decide if the offender should remain in jail or be released until trial. Commission approved the establishment of the program in November.

Since it was established in Cabell County, County Manager Stephen Zoeller said the county has saved $20,000 a month on jail costs.

Aside from pay raises, Zoeller said the commission also funded $13,000 for additional early-voting poll workers and $25,000 for overtime for deputies. The budget has been sent to the state auditor for final approval.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Capacity in regional jail gets attention

WVU Bureau Students
Published: Mar 22, 2010

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.--West Virginia officials are giving more attention to alternative sentencing as a way to deal with overcrowded prisons and jails. Currently, West Virginia's prisons have 6,500 inmates. That's 1,200 more than the system is designed to hold. Those excess inmates are then forced to stay at regional jails long term - something they weren't intended to do. Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein said alternative sentencing could help. Doing so would reduce the amount of time inmates spend in jail, he said. This would mean shorter terms for nonviolent crimes, placing anyone who has been convicted of a drug-related offense into treatment programs, and allowing inmates to be put on home confinement. "We feel that 80 percent of people in the system have a direct addiction to a substance," Rubenstein said. "Seventy percent of them are nonviolent crimes." Providing treatment and counseling opportunities in a less secure setting to help inmates function in society when released is one way to deal with overcrowding issues, he said. "When I arrived in 1997 there were overcrowding issues," said Steve Canterbury, administrative director of courts in West Virginia. He was the executive director of the Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority from 1997 to 2005. During that time, about $520 million was spent on new facilities, and in 2005, overcrowding was still a problem, he said. More than a dozen recommendations have been made to Gov. Joe Manchin to help fix the problem. One proposal involved building a 1,200-bed medium security prison. "But clearly we can't build our way out of this problem," Canterbury said. Monongalia Circuit Court Judge Russell Clawges said he believes treatment is the best way to help drug offenders stay out of prisons. Clawges has presided over the county's drug court since it opened in February last year. "Drug courts are designed to deal with people who are in the system because of addiction or who are in the system and addicted," he said. "All of those in our program have been convicted of felonies." The county's drug court is based on three factors: supervision, treatment and responsibility. Those going through drug court must be heavily supervised. Instead of monthly meetings with a probation officer, offenders visit them weekly. Treatment is administered at mandatory rehabilitation sessions three times a week. "Addiction has been classified as an illness, and like any long term illness, proper treatment is needed for recovery," Clawges said. Responsibility also is key, Clawges said. If the individuals are unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions, they will not get better, he said. A system of incentives and sanctions also are used as motivation to do well in the program. Incentives include restaurant gift certificates. Sanctions can vary from writing an essay to spending a week behind bars. Those participating in the drug court are kept on home confinement for a minimum of a year, although few complete the program in that amount of time. "The cost of drug court is much cheaper than staying at a penitentiary," Clawges said. Monongalia's drug court is the seventh of its kind in the state. WVU journalism students James Carbone, Karilynn Galiotos and Brian Young contributed to this report.