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Thumbs up: Jail staffing strategy yields cost savings

Jul. 09, 2013 @ 11:10 PM

The West Virginia Regional Jail Authority is discovering that putting more correctional officers on its payroll is saving money.

That may seem like a paradox, but the authority has found in a pilot program that hiring more officers at its South Central Regional Jail in South Charleston has reduced overtime hours there by about 75 percent. The net result is a monthly savings of about $20,000, Executive Director Joe DeLong told the Charleston Daily Mail. If the same strategy is applied to all 10 of the authority's regional jails, the savings could amount to $2 million a year, he estimated, and the authority plans to do just that eventually.

The new approach, if it pans out as DeLong predicts, carries several benefits. One, of course, is the financial savings. That is of interest not only to the jail authority, but also to West Virginia counties, which pay the jail authority for housing their prisoners. Those jail costs have put a strain on county budgets. For the second year in a row, Cabell County will spend more than $3 million to house inmates in the Western Regional Jail in Barboursville, a cost that generally has escalated since the jail opened in 2003.

The jail authority has tried to respond to the criticism from counties, and last year managed to reduce the daily rate that counties pay per inmate by about 1 percent. That resulted in an estimated annual savings of $900,000 for counties.

DeLong believes the jail authority could reduce that rate again later this year.

Other benefits of reduced overtime include less "burnout" of correctional officers and perhaps lower turnover rates. Of course, more officers who are not overworked should contribute to safer conditions in the jails.

Finding the right financial balance between an adequate number of officers and a reasonable amount of overtime hours can be difficult, but it appears the jail authority is headed in the right direction.



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