CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury said Wednesday that a new bill that would give county officials the ability to release low-level criminal defendants from jail before their trials would generate big jail savings.
"It's a hell of a bargain," Canterbury told members of the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
Canterbury said that the pretrial release bill (SB 584) is geared toward criminal defendants who do not have the money to post their relatively small bail amounts to the court system. In jail, they cost taxpayers $48.80 per day. Out of jail, the county would pay only $7 a day for monitoring, he said.
"People who are sitting in jail pretrial are there because they don't have the means to afford getting out," Canterbury said. "Basically, they are sitting there because they are poor."
Sen. Sam Cann, D-Harrison, introduced the bill last month, and it passed the Senate by a 33-0 vote. The legislation appears to stem from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's $25 million Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which aims to alleviate the state's prison and jail crowding issues by increasing funding for "risk-based" community corrections programs.
The bill calls for a review board made up of at least one county prosecutor, defense lawyer, and various county officials to review the regional jail intake, and identify low-level criminal defendants who cannot post their bail.
The panel would then make recommendations to a county magistrate or judge, who would have the last say on whether the inmate gets released.
State groups representing the commercial bail-bonding agency have ramped up lobbying efforts since the bill left the Senate last month.
West Virginia Surety Bail Bond Association President Bill Garvin said that most of his business comes from defendants with smaller bail amounts. The county pretrial release programs would essentially turn into competitors, he said.
"Our bottom line? Basically we lose money," Garvin told Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell.
Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, said that it's not clear that bondsmen would lose business because of the bill, and it's not clear that county pretrial release programs would be cutting into the bondsmen's clientele.