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Creative accounting drops jail per-diem rates

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Per-diem rates to house inmates in West Virginia's 10 regional jails will drop by 55 cents next year, thanks to some creative accounting.

On Thursday, the state Regional Jail Authority unanimously approved cutting the jail per-diem rate from $48.80 to $48.25, beginning July 1, 2013.

Authority executive director Joe DeLong said that reduction will save counties at least $516,000 in the next budget year, as well as saving at least $381,000 for the Division of Corrections to house prison inmates in the jails.

"What this will do is put $516,000 back in the pockets of counties," he said.

With jail overcrowding projected to continue to increase next year, the 55-cent cut could produce actual overall savings closer to $1 million, he said.

However, DeLong had to bend the law a little to come up with the cut.

Under the law, the Authority is to take the budgeted operating expenses for the coming budget year ($87.54 million) and divide it by the current year's average daily inmate population at the 10 jails.

That calculation technically would have required the authority to increase the daily rate to $51.62 -- even though the authority finished the 2011-12 budget year on June 30 with a $11.3 million surplus, because of overcrowding.

Instead, DeLong came up with a calculation that deducts Regional Jails' ancillary sources of revenue, including income from inmates' use of payphones and their purchases at jail commissaries, from the per-diem rate, coming up with a discount of $3.37 per day.

Asked whether that could prompt legal issues, DeLong noted, "I can't imagine anyone would challenge that we should have to do a direct interpretation, and charge more."

He added, "The counties need the relief, and it's not going to hurt us."

DeLong said the authority is working on draft legislation for the 2013 session that would change the per-diem calculation, allowing the ancillary sources of revenue to be used to discount the daily rate.

The Authority is also renegotiating the per-diem rate it charges the U.S. Marshal's Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for housing federal prisoners.

Right now, that rate is $56, and DeLong said the Authority is negotiating for a rate closer to what neighboring states charge, about $78 a day.

"I don't think we should be providing a service significantly discounted from what our surrounding states are at," he said.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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