CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County officials are again looking at ways to rein in the county's escalating jail bill.
In October, county officials paid more than $397,000 to house inmates at the South Central Regional Jail. The bill was more than $40,000 higher than October of last year.
Though county officials are used to fluctuations in the cost of housing prisoners, Kanawha County Commission administrative assistant Kim Fleck said the bill has been higher than usual for four straight months.
"[The state] did raise the per diem for this year," said David Fontalbert, chief fiscal officer for the county. "I'm sure that's had an effect on it."
But county officials are trying to figure out exactly why the bill keeps going up, and what they can do about it. Fontalbert said the jail bill was running a little more than $350,000 a month last year, but has increased to about $400,000 a month.
Fontalbert said it costs about $4.3 million a year to house county inmates at South Central.
Shortly after taking office, Kanawha County prosecutor Mark Plants began a concerted effort to bring the jail bill down. Plants streamlined prosecutions so that prisoners spent less time in jail between court hearings. County judges also started sentencing prisoners more quickly, because once they're sentenced, the state picks up the costs of incarceration.
Those efforts were effective in bringing down the amount of time prisoners spent in jail, but state increases in the daily fee for housing prisoners and a larger number of arrests drove the jail bill back up.
County officials will get some relief next year. Last month, the state Regional Jail Authority voted to lower the jail per-diem rate from $48.80 a day to $48.25 a day beginning July 1, 2013. The move is expected to save counties more than $500,000 a year.
Fontalbert calculated that the lower daily jail rate will save Kanawha County about $80,000 a year, a drop in the bucket compared with an annual bill of more than $4 million. But, he said, "We'll take what we can get."