Jail Overcrowding

West Virginia Makes Bold Move to Alleviate Overcrowded Jails

In the beginning of February, the House of Delegates in West Virginia approved a bill to help alleviate the overcrowding of their regional jails. The bill (HB 2190) requires individuals charged with certain misdemeanors to be released on personal recognizance instead of bail. This leads to both humanitarian and practical advantages, according to House Judiciary Chairman, John Shott, R-Mercer. 

The House Judiciary Committee was informed last week by Deputy Corrections Commissioner, Mike Coleman, that counties paid regional jails $1.9 million in 2018 for defendants who could not post bail of $1,000 or less. In 2018, approximately 3,750 people were jailed on misdemeanor charges and spent 11 days in jail before they were capable of posting bond. With a total of 41,058 days billed to counties, this policy of bail for misdemeanor charges carried a hefty price of $48.25 a day.

Spending any amount of time in jail, even a few days, can drastically affect one’s ability to retain a job. It is not uncommon for those waiting in jail to lose their jobs due to missing days of work. Not being able to tend to children or support their family is also an unfortunate outcome of time spent in jail while waiting to pay bail.  Misdemeanors generally include petty theft, disturbing the peace, public drunkenness, and traffic violations. Booking misdemeanor offenders takes time away from law enforcement officers that could spend their time on more serious offenses.

Releasing those accused of nonviolent crimes on personal recognizance is unquestionably valuable in solving the encroaching problem of overcrowding regional prisons. Those charged with misdemeanors involving violence, the threat of violence, crimes where the victim is a minor, the use of a deadly weapon, violations of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, or traffic offenses including negligent homicide or driving under the influence would still be required to pay cash bail. 

This legislation allowing the release of most individuals charged with non-violent crimes on personal recognizance bonds was advanced to the Senate, where it passed with a vote of 91 – 4. Reforms such as this bill, are necessary to mitigate the encroaching dilemma of jail overcrowding. In addition to allowing officers to be present for more serious offenses and giving offenders the accountability of appearing for their court date, the reform will grant counties the ability to allocate those costs to other budgets.